[The following is an excerpt from an extended book review of Lester Goran’s book “Bing Crosby’s Last Song.” The book review is written more like a creative essay / short story than a book review. If you are interested in reading the entire review, you can email me at daniellclausen [at] gmail [dot] com ]
It’s odd how fate works. Goran was most impressed by the one review he received from the New York Times. Like a lightning bolt out of the blue, it seemed to magically propel him to three more books, unnatural expectations, and then perhaps more bitterness. I don’t know. I didn’t know him well, even though I have vivid memories of him. Maybe he really did think the whole thing — writing, university teaching — was a lark, and he was just glad he wasn’t digging ditches somewhere.
I can recall at least once when he talked about the review in class. And, I think, he was almost smiling. But like with so many other things for writers, joy soon turned to bitterness and there seemed to be something — I don’t know what to call it — a fighter’s mentality, an “I haven’t gotten my due respect” or “I should have been a contender” sort of anger behind his joy. He never accepted the clean-cut polish of university asceticism and high-mindedness, seeing it as pretension and phony nonsense, so there was no need to be humble or quiet about anything he might have seen as professional slight.
I wonder why it’s easier to write about Lester than my mom or dad. Too many ghosts and memories. Better to drink and move on for a while, if you can. Write a book review set in a bar with an old creative writing teacher, just don’t go too deep or else you’ll find yourself stuck in memories too joyous or painful to move past.
I wonder why Goran wrote the book when he did — nearly fifteen years before his death. There is a lot of backward looking in the book. Is that how you know you’re dead, when you start looking backward? Daly is a man with more memories than hopes for the future — he sees change and he tries to accept it, but sees it more as a curse than a blessing.
The New York Times called Lester “Man of the Year.” Well, not quite. Anyway, here is the New York Times Book Review entitled “Celtic Twilight.” The author says of Lester’s prose: “the syntax loops in on itself, aiming for the effects of dialect, often challenging comprehensibility. (A good copy editor might have saved the author from himself at various points.)”
A good copy editor might have saved the author from himself. Well, Lester Goran wasn’t going to let anyone save him from himself. Lester was going to be as grotesque as he wanted to be. There is no getting around it — Lester was born to write these sentences just the way they are. They speak of a storytelling culture and a humble background. They speak of stories that defy propriety.
The reviewer also says, “Ancient Order of Hibernians, an organization known casually as the Irish Club, which shut its doors forever in 1965, the last year of the Second Vatican Council. Yet Mr. Goran’s heart is largely in the 1950’s, when his Irish-Americans seem to drift in a long Celtic twilight.” Yeah, that too. Although, according to him he wasn’t Irish. (I have my doubts).