Guest contributor: Bill Lundgren
categories: Cocktail Hour / Reading Under the Influence
Comments Off on Lundgren’s Lounge: “Fridays at Enricos,” by Don Carpenter
Good novels about the writing life are rare, at least to my recollection: Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon comes to mind, Starting Out in the Evening by Brian Morton, Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth perhaps? Maybe fiction writers find the idea of writing about being a writer to run the risk of redundancy or worse, irrelevant navel-gazing, doubling their misery in the process.. For judging from the fiction writers that I know (and I know many), the act of creating fiction can be a sort of unique, self-imposed misery and its practitioners often seem to do it it because they are compelled and have no choice.
We now have another title to add to this rather select genre: Fridays At Enrico’s by Don Carpenter. Carpenter’s small masterpiece captures exquisitely the essence of the writing life–the isolation, the doubt, the fickleness of both the publishing world and the reading public and at the heart of it all, the writer’s absolute and inescapable compulsion to write. Carpenter’s circle of friends, nearly all of whom are fellow writers, move from San Francisco at the beginning of the Beat generation, up to the pastoral and fecund environs of Oregon and then south again, to North Beach and Marin County. Always they are writing, engaging in that sweet torture of trying to explain the world by telling stories. Their unwavering discipline to the task is both breathtaking and clearly essential to the work. There are references and even a few brief cameos by the superstars (Kerouac, Corso, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and City Lights bookstore), but the real star of this captivating novel lies in its descriptions of the routines and the relationships and the sacrifices that fuel the work of writing. Along the way Hollywood comes calling, with it’s chimerical promises of fame and riches, but even this, Carpenter makes very clear, is secondary to the work.
Reading Fridays At Enrico’s should make every reader appreciate the debt of gratitude we owe to those who devote themselves to the Sisyphean task of enriching our world through stories. Though sadly Carpenter’s life ended early when, beset by poor health, he followed the lead of his close friend Richard Brautigan and killed himself, what he left us is a gift, a body or work that lives on and resonates. Championed by Jonathan Lethem (who ‘finished’ Fridays, though one wishes someone had paid closer attention to the task of copy-editing) and a website lovingly maintained by uber-fan Chris Cefalu (http://www.doncarpenterpage.
[Bill Lundgren is a writer and blogger, also a bookseller at Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine (“A Fiercely Independent Community Bookstore”). He keeps a bird named Ruby, and teaches at Southern Maine Community College.]