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Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man: A Novel Paperback – July 17, 2001
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How about a novel about the gangsters who ran Coney Island, the enchanted land of his childhood? Nah, too much plot to concoct. Perhaps he could update a classic: Tom Sawyer as a Harvard MBA, or Kafka's The Metamorphosis transposed to Manhattan. When these don't pan out, Heller takes a stab at mythology, done in the manner of his old pal Mel Brooks. Here Zeus's wife complains about his flagging ardor:
I try to put myself in Leda's place. It could be kind of thrilling, I guess, being overpowered by a huge male swan, especially after realizing it was Zeus.... I'd like to see him take the trouble to surprise me like that, even once. But that doesn't happen. He won't waste tricks like that on me. He never does, he knows he doesn't have to. When he comes to me it's never with anything new, it's always just the same, always just the same old god.Increasingly desperate, the author tries out titles on his friends, and A Sexual Biography of My Wife stirs some interest. Still, his tentative fictions don't grab you the way the novel's sad, searing reminiscences do. When Heller--I mean, the narrator--has a tearful reunion with his adulterous old flame (who's now stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease), or asks another female acquaintance whether she regrets turning down his long-ago offer of romance, we get a privileged glimpse into the private mind of a very public author. "I want to cap my career with a masterpiece of some kind," the narrator tells his editor. This poignantly discursive book is not a masterpiece, but Joseph Heller did go on trying to the end. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
So I was very surprised and very pleased when his final book, Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man, turned out to be vibrant and refreshing and about as good as it gets. It is a frank and honest thinly veiled autobiography about the joys and terrors of being a writer of some acclaim who seems to have run out of steam. The false starts and stops of what this book could have been make the novel even more enticing. Resistant to the idea given by his editor of writing about the process of writing, Eugene Pota is trying to end his career with a grand magnum opus on par with Tom Sawyer or The Odyssey or even a scandalous book about his wife's sex life. And aren't we lucky that he ditched all of those ideas and brought us this rare treat instead. An original work about a writer trying to figure out what to write about.
It is short, it is original and it is a very good read. Bravo on such a courageous choice to close the book on a career that started out with one of the best novels written in the English (or any other) language.
Joseph Heller apparently knew it well. Before his 1999 death, the famed author of "Catch-22" put his frustrations into fiction, resulting in 2000's "A Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man," recently released in paperback format.
The story is ingenious, and perhaps eeriely autobiographical. Aging author Eugene Pota (how clever is Heller? Pota = P.O.T.A., or Portrait Of The Artist) is struggling to write his next novel. We, as readers, get to see his latest attempts in action.
They range from a modern day re-telling of Tom Sawyer, a story told from the viewpoint of a gene, a re-telling of a mythological story, another re-telling of a biblical story, and so on. Pota gets a few pages written, but ultimately rejects each one for a variety of reasons (too much research required, it's been done to death, ludicrous concept).
Oh sure, there's the appealing notion of penning a sex book. People will coo and wink naughtily at parties, especially when you reveal your title: "A Sexual Biography of My Wife." (Your wife, in this case Eugene's wife Polly, on the other hand, is none too thrilled.) But when the title is all you've got, well...
Here Heller presents a scarily realistic view of the horrors of writer's block, and proves he has perhaps the only sure-fire method of alleviating it: Write about your writer's block.
In the midst of doing exactly that, Heller presents a three-dimensional figure in Pota. The book lives up to its title, as Eugene feels his age and struggles to capture a glimmer of what he once had. ("Catch-22," anyone?) "Portrait" is very much a story of an artist struggling to keep a grip on his craft, as it is the only thing he has left.Read more ›
Eugene Pota is a well-known author who produced an immensely successful modern classic many years ago. Though his books since then have been critical and monetary successes, all of them have been compared to that first book. Now, in his mid-seventies, Eugene reflects on the changing literary world and wants to write a mega-success, a fantastic book that will be loved and appreciated and possibly made into a movie. That's a pretty tall order.
So he begins writing various books, such as the Biblical parody "God's Wife," a book about Greek legends from the goddess Hera's point of view, a parody of "Tom Sawyer," and a novel about a husband viewing his wife's "transgressions." All of them don't quite work out...
Exactly how much of this book is autobiographical isn't clear -- between the witty final line and the stuff about Coney Island and "God Knows," it's clear that much of Pota is actually Heller. One thing that Heller did in this book (besides homage himself) is reflect on the authors who have gone before him. There are lots of references to Henry James, Mark Twain, Jack London, and plenty of others; at the same time, he mulls over the tragic qualities of their lives. (The aborted "Tom Sawyer" parody includes Tom going around looking for them)
This book, technically, is not about writer's block; rather it's about the frustration of feeling required to top yourself, and of a basic lack of inspiration.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Talk about writer's block. This book parodies that very concept. Eugene Pota, an established writer, now seventy, is trying to write his last great book. The only problem is . . . Read morePublished on February 2, 2013 by Roberto Scarlato
Ah! What a way to go! Joseph Heller's final novel is a comfortable fit, brilliantly conceived and finely executed. Read morePublished on November 26, 2007 by Cecil Bothwell
What people dont notice about this book is that it is a parody of James Joyce's classic, cryptic, boring,(and laborious) masterpiece "A Portrait of the Artist of the Young Man"... Read morePublished on May 25, 2007 by Michael Brenner
As the twilight of his life approaches, Eugene Pota, legendary author, is trying to wrestle one last, great novel out of his head and onto the page. Read morePublished on January 21, 2007 by RCM
Joseph Heller was indecisive about what his final great work should be. He explored many different avenues, but still found himself indecisive. Read morePublished on July 15, 2006 by JMack
This has to be one of the most honest, forthright, and revealing books I have ever read. It should be read by every writer -- and every artist -- to get a glimpse of what might lie... Read morePublished on September 23, 2003 by Aaron Shepard
Eugene Pota (Portrait Of The Artist) is an aging (75-year-old) novelist hoping to produce one more masterpiece to cap his flagging career in this peculiar book from (then) aging... Read morePublished on July 5, 2002 by Dave Deubler
PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST, AS AN OLD MAN (there seems to be some confusion over the title as the hardback reads AN ARTIST, while the paperback and the narrative goes with THE ARTIST)... Read morePublished on June 13, 2002 by Andrew McCaffrey
The final book in the career of Joseph Heller is a fine tale. The protagonists plight is having to live up to past glory. Read morePublished on September 5, 2001 by Anthony Sunclades