As I no longer remember who I am-- a New York winter will do that to you, at least this one did, my having picked the worst one in recent history-- I went back to one of my own works to remind me who I was. MARRIAGE was unquestionably my best novel, edited by Don Fine, a brilliant and troubled man who was locked out of his own publishing house while trying to buy it back, and whom I visited in the hospital before he died, which enraged him, after Kurt Vonnegut told me to go see him, because "it would do him good to see a pretty woman." That gives you some idea how long ago it was, Kurt being alive, and my being young enough to still be considered pretty. None of this is self-pitying, though it may sound so: I want only to be accurate while I can still remember details, which become increasingly shadowed with the passage of time, though not in the sinister sense.
We had dinner at Stefanino's, still another marker of how Ago it was, that being the place in Hollywood to dine at the time, when Nicky Blair was its owner, a former pimp and really sweet guy who apparently got enough guys fixed up to open a restaurant. I had been to dinner there before with Bob Gutwillig, my sharply gifted editor, when he had invited Gloria Steinem to join us at the time of THE PRETENDERS. I sat quaking with fearful anticipation at what I anticipated would be her contempt, but when she arrived, gorgeous woman that she was, she said "A novel. That's Big Time." Loved as she is, she is not loved enough. To be that brilliant, beautiful, and also kind: THAT's Big Time.
So there I was with Don Fine, who picked me up from the sewer Doubleday had thrown me into with my libel suit from Paul Bindrim, the spurious psychologist who did Nude PsychoTherapy, whom I had disguised in my novel TOUCHING, only to have him don the disguise(it took seven years to come to court, by which time he had grown a beard, let the fringe of his hair grow long and wound it around his bald hair so he would look like the character I had disguised him as in the book.) It was a nightmare time, where my darling husband, who had grown up in a neighborhood rife with criminal counts but had stayed clean and more than upright, found himself with marshals at the door. I became an outcast in publishing, as nobody cared who was lying; only who had had to pay out money. Don Fine, who had himself been a maverick in publishing, crazy and brilliant, sat at a table in Stefananino's a little drunk, and said "I know what not many people in this restaurant know: that I am sitting with one of the great writers of our time." And this was a man who had edited Norman Mailer and James Jones.
So I felt good about myself, something I did again yesterday, when I read MARRIAGE, though not as quickly as I might have once. The novel, which will doubtless pass unregistered in the public consciousness, soon to remember very little I am afraid, is clearly written by a writer, one with whom I feel a distant connection, though there are sentences in there that seem hewn. My brilliant friend Joanna is reading an earlier novel of mine that she finds too long, but it was the one about which Michael Korda, the hot editor of Then, said "As far as I am concerned this is the ONLY book that Simon & Schuster is publishing this Spring," but he forgot about All The President's Men. So my Great Moment was obliterated by history, and, as I said at the time, God had to choose between saving my book, and the country. I thought then that He/She had made the right decision, but some days I am not sure.
At any rate, I visited Don Fine at the end of his life in the hospital, and he all but threw me out, he was so enraged at being seen as less than in command. But I am glad now I showed my affection for him. He was a madman, and a great editor. We will never see his like again, or maybe anyone who loves writing the way he did, which, in the case of MARRIAGE I have to objectively consider, not remembering who or what I was at the time, was justified. I can say that in all lack of humility, and probably grace, because it has nothing to do with what or who I am now.
That is the strangest thing of all: Nothing remains of her, the woman who so effortlessly set down her thoughts, and even more impressively, her feelings, which I have to hope and consider were not just personal to me, but said much about all women, we being still, at that time, not clearly presented, for all the Austens and Brontes. It was the heaths and the moors that were mysterious, but not how complicated we were.
This would be an essay, were I still to be at Bryn Mawr, on HOW COMPLICATED IT IS TO BE A WOMAN. Note that Philip Roth is being everywhere commemorated, genius that he undoubtedly was and is, unfeeling as he has shown himself to be, which is apparently laudable among the highly literate. I have to try and get over being mad at him, which I am on a personal level, because he has lifted a lot of people, though few of them with a gentle hand I don't think. A woman I love as the apotheosis of what a woman should be, soft and beautiful and caring, who also knew how to organize a tool chest, was the cast-off who connected us. She brought him to a dinner that Don and I had in the early days of our marriage, when I also invited Jules Feiffer and his then wife, Judy. And the hard exchange of repartee and opinion were dazzling. Don said he felt like he was sitting in the surf being blasted by wave after wave, which was how the wit went.
But love and loyalty don't seem to be a factor in Roth's make-up, and demanding woman that I am, I like a man better who cares, and not just about words. Feelings, that's what really separates us from the beasts. Especially when you can not only express them, but have them all the way down. Or up, if you're lucky.