Sunday, October 07, 2007

WAL Review of American Prophet

Yesterday I received a new review of American Prophet, this one by Forrest G. Robinson for Western American Literature. Very gratifying. He calls it an important new biography, says it's a fitting capstone to numerous recent tributes, and offers a practical suggestion: "Do yourself a favor, Dear Reader: buy this book."

I like Professor Robinson's quick sketch of McWilliams: "To my eye, he was a model citizen: informed, independent, lucid, tirelessly active, a political realistic (sic), supportive of others, disarmingly modest, and ever hopeful for the future." Then he offers a nice compliment for our humble scribe: "Richardson has earned our gratitude for restoring McWilliams to his proper eminence."

I'm grateful for the appreciative review, but I hope the book isn't a capstone so much as the beginning of something bigger and better when it comes to McWilliams criticism. There's a lot more to be done. The collection at UCLA still has many buried treasures, I suspect, and I've learned a few details since the book appeared--that McWilliams's father did in fact commit suicide, that Luis Valdez picked up his idea for Zoot Suit after reading North from Mexico in 1959, that McWilliams saw a psychoanalyst in Los Angeles, etc. (The analyst's daughter came to my talk at the Huntington Library; apparently her father was one of the few analysts in Los Angeles that the left-wing community trusted not to reveal damaging information to the FBI.) And then of course there's McWilliams's enormous body of work, which so far has received relatively light critical attention.

Full disclosure: Professor Robinson thinks I give inordinate attention, especially in the early going, to McWilliams's small sins. Fair enough. But I'm glad he connects that flaw to what he calls my scrupulous refusal to go hagiographical. I should also note that the book cites Professor Robinson's article, "Remembering Carey McWilliams," which ran in WAL in 2000.

As far as I can tell, there's no online version of the review. The journal is published by the Western Literature Association at Utah State University.



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