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Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son Paperback – August 4, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Given the amount of emotional injury poet James Dickey (1923-1997) inflicted on himself and his family, it's a remarkable achievement that in this surprisingly tender memoir, Christopher Dickey not only discovers new love for his father but imparts it to readers as well. Arrogant, alcoholic, unfaithful to his wife, and manipulative with his children (he boasted of Christopher, "I made his head"), James Dickey emerges here as an all-too-human figure whose weaknesses are partially redeemed by his fierce passion for his art and by a late-life attempt to make amends for years of careless, destructive acts. His son's book is, among other things, a cautionary tale about the temptations of fame and money: Dickey's bestselling novel Deliverance (1970) pushed the poet to a level of commercial success he was ill equipped to deal with. The drinking got worse, the affairs more flagrant, the writing sloppier, and after Christopher's mother died in 1976, father and son seldom spoke. They reconciled in 1994; this book began as their mutual project to describe the making of the Hollywood film version of Deliverance. Good though those chapters are, it's the author's unflinchingly honest yet compassionate portrait of his father that stands out. Noted for his journalism, particularly covering Central America's gruesome civil wars of the 1980s, Christopher Dickey proves that he can plumb the intricacies of the human heart as incisively as the horrors of military conflict. His father would be proud. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

When his father, James Dickey, the poet and novelist, became ill in 1996, the author went to take care of him, not out of any great love, but rather from a sense of duty. On the very first page of this beautifully written dual-biography of father and son, Dickey, Newsweek's Paris bureau chief and author of Innocent Blood, refers to his father as the man who "killed my mother." Fame and alcohol were the twin demons of the Dickey household and Christopher traces their devastating effects during his father's slow evolution from a struggling writer to a celebrity poet and author of the novel Deliverance. His poetry led Dickey around the country to universities where he played the poet and seduced the students?all in the face of his increasingly alcoholic wife. But Christopher feels that the year when Deliverance was made into a movie, in the early '70s, marked the real turning point when many things were "exploited," including his father's integrity. What followed was a disaster of celebrity, as Dickey began "talking his poems, his books, his big projects into existence, when there was little or nothing on the page." Shortly after, Jim Dickey's wife died and he married a much younger?though equally alcoholic?woman. Dickey fils doesn't spare himself as when he recounts trying to sleep with his father's mistress and the destruction of his first marriage. But there is resurrection at the end: a solid second marriage, his rescue of his father and his young half-sister from their hellish life, and the reconciliation a few months before his father's death in January 1997. "Poetry is a matter of luck," Dickey recalls his father saying. "You can't teach it. You can point it out when it occurs." This unflinching and deeply affecting memoir is one of those places where real poetry occurs. Editor, Alice Mayhew; agent, Kathy Robbins.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: A Touchstone Book; First Edition edition (August 4, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684855372
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684855370
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #526,049 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christopher Dickey is a renowned war correspondent, historian, and thriller writer, an authority on terrorism, and a memoirist. He is the Paris-based foreign editor of The Daily Beast, and a frequent commentator on CNN, NBC, MSNBC, the BBC and NPR.

Chris's most recent work of non-fiction is "Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South," to be published in July. Pulitzer prize-winning historian James M. McPherson describes it as "an engrossing account of diplomatic derring-do," and Kirkus, in a starred review, calls it, flatly, "a great book."

At a time when Americans are searching for a deeper understanding of their history as it affects today's burning questions of race and politics, "Our Man in Charleston" offers startling insights into the grim narrative of slavery, the matter of states' rights, and the foundations of racism in the United States as viewed by an outsider 160 years ago in the heart of the Southern "slavocracy." A compelling true story, it tells of one young British diplomat's ultimately successful effort to prevent the Crown from supporting the Confederacy. Had British military might backed the secessionists, especially in the early days of the conflict, that would have been checkmate, game over for the Union. But that did not happen, and this meticulously documented narrative, much of it based on "private and confidential" correspondence never before published, shows why.

Glowing editorial notices have come from several authoritative Civil War historians: in addition to McPherson, author of "Battle Cry of Freedom," Amanda Foreman ("A World on Fire"), Harold Holzer ("Lincoln and the Power of the Press") and Howard Jones ("Blue and Grey Diplomacy") have all praised the book. Great modern American writers -- Joan Didion, Pat Conroy and Geraldine Brooks, among them -- have found "Our Man" a compelling narrative. (Didion said, memorably, it is "a perfect book about an imperfect spy.") Well-known ex-CIA operative Robert Baer calls it "the best espionage book I've read."

Chris's earlier works include "Securing the City: Inside America's Best Counterterror Force--The NYPD," which was chosen by The New York Times Book Review as one of the notable books of 2009 and had a full page devoted to it in The Economist. His novel "The Sleeper" was acclaimed by the Times as "a first-rate thriller." His "Summer of Deliverance," another "notable book of the year" for the Times, was described beautifully by Elizabeth Hardwick as "a heartbreaking, eloquent memoir by the son of the heartbreaking, eloquent poet, James Dickey."

"Innocent Blood," Chris's first novel, predicted in 1997 the waves of terror that would come at the United States, and got inside the heads of those who would bring them. "Expats," is a book of essays about traveling among the people of the Middle East--particularly the displaced and misplaced Westerners who lived there in times of war. And Chris's first book, "With The Contras," in 1986, was not only an up-close account of combat in Nicaragua but a first-hand history of Central America at a time of ferocious revolutions and repression.

So, you'll say that what's common about Chris's books is combat, spookery, terror and emotional trauma. And that's partly true. But there is also another deeply felt theme in many of them: that of family as the ultimate source of human drama and also the social force that far too often is misunderstood, or ignored, in our efforts to grasp what's going on in the world around us. For more on this theme see pages 228-229 in the paperback edition of "Summer of Deliverance" or Location 3949 on the Kindle edition.

Chris's career as an editor, reporter and foreign correspondent spans more than 40 years. He is currently the Paris-based Foreign Editor for The Daily Beast and previously was the Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East Editor for Newsweek Magazine. Before that he worked for The Washington Post as Cairo Bureau Chief and Central America Bureau Chief. Chris's columns about counter-terrorism, espionage and the Middle East appear regularly now on, where they reach some 20 million readers a month. For links to recent columns and articles, visit "The Shadowland Journal" at

What else does Chris do? Apart from spending as much time with his grandchildren as possible, Chris is a passionate amateur photographer. As he moves through the streets of Paris, New York and other cities around the world, he constantly takes pictures to amuse himself. His Instagram and Twitter handles are the same: @csdickey.

Over the years, Chris has written for Foreign Affairs, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Wired, Rolling Stone, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, and The New Republic, among other publications.

He is a graduate of the University of Virginia with a master's degree in documentary film making from Boston University. Among his many honors are a doctorate from Hamilton College and journalism awards from the Overseas Press Club, the Inter-American Press Association and Georgetown University. Chris is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, where he was formerly an Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow, and the Anglo-American Press Association of Paris. He is on the board of the Overseas Press Club of America.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Gary Delsohn on October 22, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book, painful and redemptive at the same time, plus interesting as hell. If you thought of James Dickey only as the author of Deliverance, we are made aware here of what a remarkable poet he was and how pathetically ill-equipped he was for fame, marriage or fatherhood. It's far more than just another story of wretched excess, though. Christopher Dickey writes extremely well and honestly about his father and his feelings for him, and at the end you kind of like the old man, which sure seemed impossible for much of the book. But how many of us, if we had his brilliance or prestige that he gained from it, would have been any better at resisting all the trappings that come along? I'm still thinking about this book long after I finished and the end, where James Dickey is quoted at length on what it means to be a poet, is spellbinding and inspirational, worth the price of the book and the time it took to get to the end.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By cindy goldenberg on January 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
Anyone with a father can relate to this book. No one needs to live the horrors of alcoholism to identify with the unrelenting need to be loved by our parents, especially our fathers. Regardless of age,race,or financial status, we continuously seek the approval of our parents. And Christopher Dickey paints an honest portrayal of what it's like to trust,love,hate and endure our parents. His experiences stir our hearts as we identify with the pain a parent can inflict on us. As his story unfolds, we see a part of ourselves in him as he learns to put things into perspective and let go of the pain. Refreshingly honest,and poetically constructed, Christopher Dickey has a magical way with words that makes us better for having shared his, and our, life experiences. A timeless story,excellently written, and guaranteed not to be forgotton!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Christopher Dickey's memoir of his relationship with his father has helped me to understand James Dickey, the artist, as never before. The book picks up steam about halfway through and *becomes* utterly compelling. (The last two sections are as moving as anything I've read in a long time.) In the beginning sections, though, I tired of watching the son invent ways of stating that his father imagined himself the God of poetry--and of all his world--and that for him the imagined life matched, even exceeded, the real in terms of its significance. It's true, no doubt, and tragic. But it becomes trite through so much repetition.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 26, 1998
Format: Hardcover
"Summer of Deliverance" is an eloquent and compelling work by the son of a remarkable (even sometimes brilliant) self-destructive poet. Christopher Dickey pulls no punches in this memoir about his relationship with his father, James Dickey, who died in 1997. Once a loving and focused parent, Dickey began a steady decline into alcoholism, half-truths, and embarassing showmanship after his first novel, DELIVERANCE, was made into a successful film, in 1971. All of Christopher's pain and heartache are here--everything from his father driving his first wife (Christopher's mother) to drink and an early death to the poet's frightening bout with alcoholic hepatitis in 1994. Christopher does a workmanlike job of dramatically organizing his assemblage of details and facts. And, to his credit, he accesses himself just as relentlessly as he does his father. Also, like his dad, Christopher has an uncanny eye for the poetic. Whether it is recalling lyrical lines of conversation with the elder Dickey or simply remembering poignant moments (e.g., when his father, frail and hooked to an oxygen machine, utters with heartfelt forthrightness, "Son--I do love you so much"), Christopher pens it so winningly right. Quibbles? I question his speaking so harshly about the University of South Carolina. For both USC and Dickey prospered by his tenure there. Still, with SUMMER OF DELIVERANCE, we have a clearer picture of both the frailties and the greatness of a legendary poet.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Orin Cassill on March 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Chris Dickey is a poet in journalist's clothing. His book about his father is engaging, touching, heart-wrenching and brutally honest, not to mention very well written. Growing up in the shadow of a famous parent dancing in and out of the limelight is particularly challenging, and while it may have many advantages, it also has its downside. Other children of writers have described the unique lifestyle they have enjoyed/endured. Susan Cheever, Hillary Masters come to mind. If one can survive such a childhood, usually a very unique individual emerges. Dickey talks about his father "making his head". The head of a poet can be a strange and wonderful thing. Judging from this book and Dickey's other books, his head has been well-made.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Timothy J. Bazzett on July 31, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was introduced to the poetry of James Dickey in a graduate school American Lit seminar in 1969-70. I was not then and still am not a poetry buff. My genre of choice was always fiction. But Dickey's stuff was different. His poems caught my attention. It probably didn't hurt that he was at the time the latest "darling" of the literary world, getting lots of press and his face on magazine covers. The poem I still remember from those long ago days is "The Sheep Child," with its dire and near-spritual consideration of and warnings to horny farm boys against the temptations of bestiality. In the ethereal and innocent voice of the half-sheep half-human monstrosity floating in a bottle in a forgottten corner of an Atlanta museum, this frightening 'rural legend' whispers:

"Dead, I am most surely living
In the minds of farm boys: I am he who drives
Them like wolves from the hound bitch and calf
And from the chaste ewe in the wind.
They go into woods into bean fields they go
Deep into their known right hands. Dreaming of me,
They groan they wait they suffer
Themselves, they marry, they raise their kind."

It is a chilling image, a more serious look perhaps at the same sexual compulsions that plagued poor tortured teenager Alex Portnoy. Another poem I remember is "Fog Envelops the Animals" with its images of a bow hunter stalking a deer in early morning fog. The poem's subject was revisited in a scene in Dickey's highly successful novel, Deliverance.

For all of his writing life, James Dickey aimed at writing totally orginal virile, vigorous and "muscular" poetry and prose, and he seemed to succeed in poems like "Fog...
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