Saturday, December 17, 2016

Herbert Gold

When I was young, i.e. 62 years ago, I had vision of becoming a writer. Before writing, writers had to read, therefore I bought issues of New World Writing, a series of anthologies of contemporary literature from many parts of the world, published by Mentor. When we moved house I chucked out most of these, some have disintegrated. Old literary magazines, Landfall, Mate, Island, and London Magazine had to go too. I haven't looked at them all these years, I am unlikely to look at them in my remaining few years, and there is a limited to what I can cram on to my bookshelf in our new home. But New World Writing No. 6 somehow survived, and I took it with me to hospital to read while I waited for my wife, Judy, to come out of her operation. I was prepared for a long wait. New World Writing No. 6 was published in 1954. I was then 20 years old, at Teachers College, a leading member of the Literary Society. I wrote fanciful stories that were perhaps colourful, but had little to do with my life experience. I think that only one of these stories survived, the loss of the others was no great loss to the world of literature. The first of the stories in New World Writing No. 6 was a longish story by Herbert Gold, The Man Who Was Not Wit It. I think that I have heard of Herbert Gold as one of the post-war American Jewish writers like Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Joseph Heller, Philip Roth, and many other, who injected new colour into American literature. I can't recall reading anything by Herbert Gold, and none of his books are available in the otherwise very well stocked Wellington Public Library. He is largely forgotten, but he is still very much alive, 92 years old, and published in recent years a series of books on growing old, Still Alive, (2008), Not Dead Yet (2011) and When Psychopaths Fall in Love (2015). He is a relic of the generation of hippy writers, the Beat Generation, which included Allen Ginsberg, Anais Nin, as well as Keruac, Burroughs, Kesey, Brautigan and many other. I don't know whether anyone still reads these writers. Their rejection of material values is alien to the present materialistic acquisitive world in which success is measured by wealth and possessions. The Man Who Was Not Wit It raise some questions in my mind about writing, about the nature of fiction. Why was the son of Jewish immigrants who came to Cleveland from Russia, writing about a drop out pick pocket and carnival factotum, who was influenced by an Italian carnival crier. His father cared for him, had ambitions for him, tried to entice him to join him in the trucking business,but he found the meaning of his life in the bohemian existence of a carnival entertainer. Bellow, Malamud, Philip Roth wrote about the world they grew up in. They wrote bout people who tried to make sense of, reconcile the values and aspirations of the American society lived in with the immigrant culture they were imbued with.  Perhaps age 20, I like Herbert Gold, also tried to write about a world that only existed in my imagination, and this is why I did not connect with the world around me. My strange, European roots would have struck no chords with the people among whom I moved.