Tuesday, 15 January 2013

EVAN CONNELL: THE GUARDIAN OBITUARY

My obituary of Evan S Connell is in the Guardian, you can link to it here. It is pretty much as I wrote it, apart from North Point Press being called a small 'outfit', which somehow seems lessening the impact of what was one of my favourite smaller publishers (though they would have probably enjoyed it). Interestingly, some of the other obits out there were saying North Point had published Mrs. Bridge in 1959, but they weren't around then, and the novel, like his first book of stories, was published by Viking. The main thing cut out was a reference to one of Connell's relationships, with the singer Gale Garnett, who remained his close friend. I was hoping (without writing it in) that people might make the connection to her hit song, 'We'll Sing In The Sunshine', in the context of his life.

It would have been great to have more space to discuss Son Of The Morning Star, which remains to me the best study of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. I'd also recommend Douglas C Jones' novel The Court-Martial Of George Armstrong Custer, which I believe I read around the same time, although it was published earlier. It's a central story in the American myth--where the greatest tropes are mainly about losses: The Alamo, Custer's Last Stand, Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickock, as if to emphasise the violence and somehow portray us as innocents in the face of it.

Mrs. Bridge is a great novel, Mr. Bridge suffers a bit by comparison. The film may actually be a bit better than I implied; Paul Newman is impressive in the way he tries to stiffen his interior, but it makes the character somewhat one-dimensional. Joanne Woodward nails Mrs. Bridge totally. I recall feeling it was the casting of the daughters, particularly Kyra Sedgwick, and Margaret Welsh, that hurt; they play it even more one dimensional (and somewhat anachronistic) than Newman.

But thinking about it, it may be that Connell was a better essayist, even in the long-form, than novelist; you could argue that his fiction is best in the short story form, where the emotional detachment doesn't dominate, keeping the characters at arm's reach from the reader. His talent was at its most impressive in the way he could perceive and analyse, get under the surface of hard-to-see things and render them comprehsenible through beautiful prose controlled as carefully as his most restrained characters. He was a great writer.

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