People Who Died

3 Dec

Jim Carroll who may be known to most people as the protagonist of The Basketball Diaries (played on what used to be called the silver screen version by Leonardo DiCaprio) and to others as the composer of a necrologic ditty People Who Died has had his final novel The Petting Zoo (Viking)completed and published posthumously (he died in Sept 2009). I would not have noticed had I not come across Thomas Mallon’s paean to Carroll in the latest New Yorker

Having viewed Carroll as a creation and denizen of Manhattan (and therefore not taken him seriously as a writer) all I knew of him were the two references cited above. Mallon quotes Jack Kerouac as offering that” at the age of 13 Carroll was a better writer than 89 % of the writers working today.” He also offers praise from Carroll’s one time girl friend Patti Smith in his nimble tribute and provides a creditable and vivid picture of Carroll’s life and the kind of lost angel he appeared to be. Smith in the Petting Zoo’s brief preface refers to Carroll as a man without guile,disdainful of his beauty, red-gold hair,lanky body,abstract, bare-headed, empty handed.”

The Carroll piece leads me to refresh my regard for Thomas Mallon (Henry and Clara is one of my favorite novels) as a wonderful novelist, thoughtful and original essayist and dependable literary commentator. Mallon concludes with this :

One imagines him at the end…back near all the altar rails and gymnasiums and boiled Irish verities from which he had never fled very far. Friends would soon enough be telling his family that they were “sorry for your troubles.” But in the meantime Carroll was at his desk ransacking the exhausted imagination inside his vanishing body, surely knowing that its very real gifts had long since been spent.

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