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Man of a Million Fragments: The True Story of Clay Shaw Paperback – July 16, 2014
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About the Author
Donald H. Carpenter was born in Baton Rouge, and attended the University of Virginia, Louisiana State University, Kennesaw State University, and Georgia State University. He worked for 25 years as a forensic certified public accountant (CPA) in Atlanta and Nashville. He began writing in the 1970s and published his first book in 1993. He has written four novels, one book of political satire, and this full-length biography of Clay Shaw, the prominent gay New Orleans man implicated in the Kennedy assassination.
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Carpenter did a couple of interviews with people who knew Shaw socially as a young man. This helps to flesh out Shaw a little bit as a person.Carpenter obviously spent much time poring through archives to find correspondence and news clippings about Shaw and the Trade Mart. This information is valuable to have. There is not much publicly available about this mysterious and fascinating historical figure. What is available is often severely biased. Carpenter has managed to just present raw research without any particular bias for or against Shaw--and there's definitely value in that neutrality.
However, it seems like the author just summarized archive items as he found them, then smashed those notes together into this book. Much of it is a jumble of cobbled-together minutia detailing Shaw's activities in support of the Trade Mart. Shaw's sexuality is dealt with some. Shaw's French Quarter revitalization and redevelopment activities are presented in a very blow-by-blow fashion without any analysis of what it meant for the City of New Orleans or local redevelopment as a whole. I wanted very much to learn more about Shaw's international and intelligence connections--the shadowy stuff not found in university archives. Carpenter did not pull hard enough on those threads. In fact, it seems that Carpenter willfully neglected those topics; one has to wonder why. Also, it bothered me that while Carpenter neglected the more shadowy and unsavory facets of Shaw's life, he parroted some of the ridiculous character assassinations directed at Jim Garrison over the years; for example, Carpenter presents as possible the lie that Jim Garrison was sexually obsessed with Shaw, fueling his trying Shaw for the murder of JFK. For someone so careful about not besmirching Shaw, Carpenter plays fast and loose with allegations against Garrison.
Some outside research could have gone a long way toward making this a great book. It could have placed the story of Shaw in a larger context. It did not deal enough with Shaw's globalist, CIA, and other intelligence connections. It should have delved deeper into Jim Garrison's trial of Shaw on charges he participated in the JFK assassination. Failing in those areas, this was a vapid read.
Furthermore, the writing style is terribly jumbled. It was missing the fundamental elements of topic paragraphs at the start of well-organized chapters and topic sentences at the start of paragraphs. I've seen better composition in the work of college freshmen. To me, this reinforced that notes had just been cobbled together.
Despite these problems, the book is worth reading for what it does well......detailed summaries of archive items related to Shaw.
I encourage Carpenter to work with a good content editor, take this detailed research, do some contextual and background research, and weave it together into an interesting narrative that does justice to this fascinating and mysterious man and his milieu. I would buy the book.
There are faults in the book; I assume that the computer format has something to do with that. There are typos ("Welch" for "Welsh," missing spaces, "poured" instead of "pored," "viral" instead of "virile," and a few hazy clausal references, for instance), but the overwhelming effect is of an enormous amount of close research tellingly presented.
I think that Mr. Carpenter is quite clear as to which statements his and which are those of others; he is as balanced a reporter as I have come across. The portrait that he builds, which covers the evolution of a fascinating character, is painstaking and lively. He has one virtue that I particularly applaud: when reintroducing a person's name, he refers briefly to that person's rôle in the drama. I wish all writers were so careful of their readers' patience!
The history of the International Trade Mart is in itself very interesting, as are the descriptions of New Orleans-Latin American contacts and projects.
It is a testimony to Mr. Carpenter's writing, I believe, that the short part of the book detailing what occurred after Mr. Shaw's death seemed sad and dry, the personality of his protagonist having so infused the rest of it.
In short, this is a fitting biography of a man who richly deserved one.
For me, understanding the reality of Shaw's life--unusual in some respects, but ultimately mainstream--made his prosecution seem even more nightmarish.
And the book is much more. It deals with the issues of its time, such as Cold War tensions between the USA and the Communist bloc, the Cuban revolution under Fidel Castro, the burning tension of the civil rights era in the South, and the early emergence of gay identity and persecution. I don't recall reading a history or biography that had such a wide grasp of all areas, not just the core subject matter, but all of the surrounding issues as well. Very different.
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