A collection of biographical essays for the morbidly curious, this pedestrian book relates, in term-paper fashion, the lives, works and self-inflicted deaths of about 40 reasonably memorable authors. (The term "author" is employed rather looselyAHitler earns a chapter courtesy of Mein Kampf.) Presented chronologically by year of suicide, the essays begin in 1894 with Henry James's anxious friend Constance Fenimore Woolson and end in 1991 with Polish ?migr? novelist Jerzy Kosinski. Yet, perhaps unwilling to throw away any of his accumulated notes, Seinfelt adds appendixes of "Other Notables," "More Suicides Still" and "Seven Possibles" to the 25 corpses on his main stage, among them Hemingway, Plath and Koestler. The essays include short bios, plot summaries of the authors' works, and the methods of suicide. Unquestionably, Seinfelt has read a great many biographiesAand obituariesAin his research, but he offers nothing factually new. His only message seems to be that writing is dangerous to one's mental health. Nevertheless, readers may find this a handy source for checking their favorite authorial suicidesAas well as an inadvertently amusing collection of clich?s and unintended implications: "He was...one of the least suited writers ever to show up in California," Seinfelt writes of Ross Lockridge, author of Raintree County, "He did not have a thick skin."
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Until the twentieth century, Seinfelt speculates, the "ultimate taboo" against suicide kept many writers who experienced depression and wrote about suicide in their fiction from committing the deed, but, as the taboo has lost its force, all too many twentieth-century writers have ended their own lives. Collected here are brief discussions of more than 50 writers: 25, from Henry James' friend Constance Woolson to Virginia Woolf, Hemingway, Plath, Yukio Mishima, Berryman, Koestler, and Kosinski, are given a thorough discussion; the remainder, which includes Jack London, William Inge, Richard Brautigan, Primo Levi, F. O. Matthiessen, Michael Dorris, and J. Anthony Lukas, are discussed more briefly. A final section, "Seven Possibles," includes Ambrose Bierce, T. E. Lawrence, Randall Jarrell, and Eugene Izzi. There are some surprises among Seinfelt's selections, for example, Hitler, Bruno Bettelheim, and Carole Landis. Ideally, Seinfelt's biographies should send readers back to his subjects' own works. Includes a foreword by Paul West and a thoughtful introduction by the author as well as a brief bibliography. Mary CarrollSee all Editorial Reviews