Let Us Build Us a City, just published from Crux: The Georgia Series in Literary Nonfiction, reads like a master class on writing as practice, while performing a deep reading of art and life and looking to discern why liberal education matters so much to our society.
“Drawing from some of the most influential writers and thinkers of the twentieth century, Daugherty poses questions that face anyone engaged in the arts today. These thoughtful, deeply considered, and provocative essays encourage the reader to engage with the unknown, to embrace ‘the mystery and power of creating new worlds,’ and to take part in building what Daugherty calls ‘a creative and imaginatively generous society’–exactly the sort of society we should all aspire to.”–Peter Turchi.
“Tracy Daugherty has worked up . . . a miracle: a Baedeker to the city of storytelling. amid the confounding boulevards and alleyways of fiction, Daugherty’s guide is like nothing else out there, rangy and profound . . . The journey always proves fascinating, whether the landmarks are Dante or Sherwood Anderson, Ptolemy or Grace Paley. An essential text for anyone susceptible to the magic of stories long or short.”–John Domini.
A new collection of novellas and stories: “Daugherty’s fiction leaves us dry-eyed and wiser in that place far beyond tears that we know from our own lives.”–Shelby Hearon.
In the Winter 2015 issue of The Georgia Review, Benjamin Woodard offers a thoughtful review of THE EMPIRE OF THE DEAD. Here is an excerpt: Daugherty “is keenly aware of the tropes associated with the crises his protagonists navigate, and he makes a conscious effort to outwit the expected. The result is a collection that chides . . . genre as much as it embraces its tone and trappings . . . darkly funny . . . [with] sly cross-purposes . . . THE EMPIRE OF THE DEAD deserves to flourish–both for the countering [narrative] moves it makes and for its own fine writing.”
St. Martin’s Press, August 2015: A New York Times and Los Angeles Times Best Seller. One of the “Best Books of 2015″: Kirkus, San Francisco Chronicle. The #1 Northwest Book of the Year, 2015”: Portland Oregonian.
“It is rare to find a biographer so temperamentally, intellectually, and even stylistically matched with his subject as Tracy Daugherty, author of well-received biographies of Donald Barthelme and Joseph Heller, is matched with Joan Didion; but it is perhaps less of a surprise if we consider that Daugherty is himself a writer whose work shares with Didion’s classic essays . . . a brooding sense of the valedictory and the elegiac . . . The Last Love Song is not a conventional biography so much as a life of the artist rendered in biographical mode . . . Many passages in [it] read with the fluency of fiction, and the particular intimacy of Didion’s fiction . . . We feel that we are reading about Didion in precisely Didion’s terms . . . It is warmly generous, laced with the ironic humor Didion and Dunne famously cultivated.”–Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Review of Books, 10/8/15.
“Mr. Daugherty . . . does an agile job here of examining how his subject’s life illuminated the eras she traversed (and vice versa) . . . this thoughtful and ambitious biography remains focused on Didion’s writing, using her life to shed light on her highly autobiographical work . . . [the] biography evinces a deep appreciation of her skills and idiosyncrasies, and an understanding of how writers like Conrad [and] Hemingway . . . helped her forge her singular style . . . Mr. Daugherty expertly dissects Ms. Didion’s preoccupation with narratives.”–Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times, 8/18/15.
“Tracy Daugherty delves into the wellspring of Didion’s character with a responsible and generous willingness to examine her life, trace her intellectual and creative development, and transmute what he finds into larger insight not only on what made Didion a great writer but on what it means to be one, both for the writer and for the society whose collective memory she or he reflects, preserves, and shapes . . . [in passages] marked by the sort of elegant rhetorical acrobatics reminding the reader of the writer’s presence, Daugherty dissects [Didion’s] singular technique[s] . . . Daugherty accomplishes precisely what he sets out to do.”–Maria Popova, “BrainPickings,” 12/12/15.
“Daugherty’s . . . biography gives us a full, vibrant picture of Didion . . . [his] primary interest here is in Didion’s work–in the writing itself . . . Daugherty’s ability to parse [her] evolution is itself noteworthy: he treats [her] contradictions less as evolutions towards the ‘correct’ or ‘final’ worldview, than as moments in a life lived with contradictions . . . [T]he brilliant trick that Daugherty manages to pull off in ‘The Last Love Song’ [is that by] weaving Didion’s life and her work into a coherent, unified narrative, he resuscitates her middle period–precisely the work that most explicitly resists the coherent and the unified . . . Daugherty’s book ultimately succeeds because of his ability to see Didion not as an immutable icon of cool, but as someone whose ideas and whose writing shifted constantly, radically.”–Colin Dickey, The Los Angeles Review of Books, 8/23/15.
“Didion . . . would [be], at least for many biographers . . . too terrifying to touch. Fortunately, Daugherty, a fiction writer and essayist, knows exactly how much pressure to apply. [An] excellent and exhaustive book . . . [an] intrepid and meticulous biographer . . . ” Meghan Daum, The Atlantic, 8/10/15.
“Daugherty has defied W. H. Auden’s assertion that ‘biographies of writers are always superfluous and usually in bad taste’ . . . he has constructed a tome to a literary icon . . . a studied and studious analysis of Didion’s comprehensive life and literary history . . . Few are as well-suited to this task as Daugherty, a much-acclaimed and roundly lauded literary biographer.”–The Oregonian, 8/30/15.
The Last Love Song “[is] a large continent . . . The book passes through its own weather systems, from a crisp intro, depicting the youth of its subject, Joan Didion, in Sacramento, California, during the 1930s and 40s, through her fecund early working years in Manhattan and on into the hot, gritty, apocalyptic dog days of 1960s Los Angeles, whose bard Didion became. Then comes the greying climate of late middle age . . . The Last Love Song [also] features a steady stream of historical signposts . . . explained in considerable depth.”–Laura Miller, The Guardian, 8/15/15.
“Few writers have been so intent [as Didion] on impressing upon us the illusions of self-deception, the delusions of nostalgia and memory. What more could there be to say? And so it’s a happy surprise that the first biography of Didion to appear . . . is so compelling. Daugherty . . . focus[es] . . . on the extraordinarily rich reverberations between his subject’s life, work, and the shifting social and political sands of her time . . . [he] understands the paradoxes at the heart of Didion’s allure . . . forthright and sensitive reporting . . . What Daugherty does exceptionally well is conjure a psychic atmosphere, grounding our understanding of Didion. “–Megan O’ Grady, Vogue.com, 8/20/15.
” . . . a magisterial, extraordinarily sympathetic new biography . . . Daugherty practically establishes a psychic connection with Didion . . . Every aspect of Didion’s life and work is pondered thoughtfully . . . the book is fleet . . . and . . . persuasive . . . “–Peter Tonguette, The Christian Science Monitor, 8/25/15.
“Yesterday, I finished The Last Love Song . . . The biography was a crash course in what had made me fall in love with Joan Didion’s style in the first place . . . [Daugherty] wrote a splendid book without her help and it’s my theory he wouldn’t have learned that much about her if she had granted him full access . . . “–Pat Conroy, patconroy.com, 10/22/15.
” . . . [an] encyclopedic biography . . . an intense examination of Didion’s carefully-controlled work . . . Daugherty successfully illustrates the intricate ways Didion has both responded to and also helped create the culture about which she writes . . . [he] has managed to portray a magnificent life by scouring her work, interviewing distant friends and old colleagues . . . But the genius of the biography comes from Daugherty’s ability to uncover in these sources a narrative that is compulsively readable.”–Jill Dehnert, The Brooklyn Rail, 9/8/15.
“Recommended”–Bret Easton Ellis, breteastonellis.com, 10/1/15.
“Tracy Daugherty gives us a meticulously researched biography of Didion that functions as both an exploration of late 20th century American cultural values, as well as an incredible insight into the life of an extremely talented woman of letters.”–J. P. O’Malley, Salon.com, 9/7/15.
“Tracy Daugherty has the confidence to write an unauthorized book on a living person that trawls not just for gossip (though there’s plenty on Didion’s mostly charmed life and its late unraveling) but for connection and, ultimately, meaning.”–New York Magazine, “Twenty-five Things to Hear, Watch, and Read,” 9/7/15.
“Daugherty has previously written indispensable biographies of Donald Barthelme and Joseph Heller . . . Of all living writers–Didion will be 81 in December–Joan Didion has been in the uppermost tier of those crying out for a truly great literary biography . . . We needed this book–and a literary biographer as good as Tracy Daugherty–to understand . . . the novelist who first traduced America in 1970 with her second novel ‘Play It As It Lays,'”–Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News, 9/8/15.
“In his elucidation of Didion’s development, Daugherty offers a detailed coloring-in of the self-portrait Joan Didion has drawn in her autobiographical writing. It confirms the achievements of her career and celebrates the experience of reading her exacting prose. ‘The Last Love Song’ is a smart and gratifying book that gives us Didion’s world and brings us closer to her way of seeing it.”–The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 8/23/15.
” . . . at its core [The Last Love Song] provides an indispensable guide to understanding not just the value of Didion’s contribution to American literature, but how she pulled it off. Among the pleasures of Daugherty’s portrait is the light it sheds on Didion’s literary education . . . one comes away from The Last Love Song with a renewed sense of how rare true talent is, what a gift it is–for the bearer, and for her audience.”–The Millions, 8/24/15.
“Succeeds in adding a remarkable texture and density to Didion’s own, often airless, self-reflections. Daugherty . . . understands the literary and cultural milieu in which Didion’s fractured first-person prose found an audience.”–Chicago Tribune Printer’s Row Journal, 8/30/15.
“Tracy Daugherty captures Didion’s anxious journey . . . a compelling story.”–The Washington Post, 8/30/15.
” . . . a combination of painstakingly detailed research . . . and astute literary criticism . . . [Daugherty] has a firm, clear grasp on [Didion’s] writing–how it evolved, how it fits into (and helped shape) the landscape of American literature, how her language illuminates her worldview . . . the book conjures as vivid a picture of this living legend as we are likely to get.”–Entertainment Weekly, 8/14/15.
“Daugherty is an excellent researcher . . . [he] has to be credited with an honest attempt to turn everything about Didion–her life, her work, the events that influenced everything around her–into a coherent narrative . . . an intelligent look at Didion’s work.”–National Public Radio, 8/25/15.
“Daugherty delivers rigorous research . . . to determine whether ‘the life reveal[s] the art, or the art the life’ . . . [he] gives us . . . excellent literary criticism and painstaking detail about her personal life . . . [he] grounds our understanding of the writer in her background.”–The Daily Beast, 8/23/15.
“Both the suffering, imperfect human being and the detached, cerebral author come through in The Last Love Song, a clear-eyed, respectful biography.”–Columbus Dispatch, 8/30/15.
” . . . [a] hefty but engaging biography . . . Daugherty defends Didion as a humanist covering the gamut: politics, art, history, war, you name it. The portrait is of a writer who, as one critic said, ‘chooses to speak in her own person’ . . . ‘[f]acing it–always facing it–that’s the way to get through.'”–San Francisco Chronicle, 8/19/15.
” . . . intelligent and elegant . . . “–Louis Menand, The New Yorker, 8/24/15.
“A comprehensive, absorbing look at the life of iconic author Joan Didion . . . by a top-notch biographer.”–Good Housekeeping, 9/15.
“If you want a taste for what it was like to be a high-flying journalist at the apex of the New Journalism and a lauded screenwriter during a Hollywood golden age, or if you just want to know the gossip behind all the troubled marriage innuendoes haunting The White Album, then this is your book.”–Vulture, 8/24/15.
“[Daugherty] nails the ways in which history and culture shaped a writer who returned the favor.”–Boris Kachka, Vulture, “Books You Need to Read,” 8/5/15.
“[E]xcellent . . . Daugherty’s resume as a writer–he is an award-winning novelist and a biographer of Joseph Heller–makes him an ideal biographer of Joan Didion. He ‘gets’ Didion–the melancholy, the hypochondria, the depressions accompanied by daytime drinking.”–National Review, 8/5/15.
“This biography of Joan Didion by critically acclaimed biographer and novelist Tracy Daugherty will doubtless be a big buzz book this season.”–Biographile, “Required Reading,” 8/3/15.
“The Last Love Song . . . compile[s] reams of facts . . . Daugherty’s analyses of the ouvre are apt. Didion lovers, of whom there are many, will find it enjoyable . . . “–Seattle Times, 8/23/15.
“Reads like a work of fiction. And Daugherty, whose excellent Hiding Man surveys the life and works of semi-recluse Donald Barthelme, is well-positioned to trace the public vs. private paradoxes of Didion’s life without killing the mystery.”–Flavorwire, “Must Read Books,” 8/4/15.
” . . . a thoughtful, highly readable account.”–Christian Science Monitor, “10 Best Books of August,” 8/4/15.
“The nearest thing to a biopic in book form, [The Last Love Song] opens with a Romantic vision of the West . . . [and] gets interesting when it turns to Didion’s early career.”–The New Republic, 7/21/15.
“Daugherty with his novelistic narrative power and historian’s grasp of details has the ability to give a compelling fresh look at Didion . . . Daugherty’s books are part of a new golden age of literary biography.”–Southern Bookman, 8/3/15.
“In this engrossing biography of exceptional vibrancy, velocity, and perception, Daugherty astutely elucidates Didion’s ever-evolving artistic explorations and political critiques as she interrogates the meaning and ‘intelligibility’ of literature and life. He also portrays this intensely candid, searching writer as endlessly hardworking, brilliantly innovative, and as sensitive as a tuning fork or divining rod, trembling with the intensity of it all, perfect in pitch, stunning in revelation.”–Donna Seaman, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW, 6/1/15.
” . . . [a] humdinger of a biography of Joan Didion . . . “–Chicago Tribune, 6/4/15.
“Tracy Daugherty biography of Joan Didion irresistibly readable.”–Joyce Carol Oates on Twitter, 5/26/15.
“Tracy Daugherty puts writer Joan Didion under the microscope.”–Time, “Summer’s Top Titles,” 7/6/15.
” . . . the first major biography of Joan Didion . . . is a very hefty book about her . . . there is sure to be further interest in her story: as the modern novelist who best made ennui sexy; as the tough social critic and political essayist whose pieces take no prisoners; as the wife and parent who has endured such terrible losses; and as the shrewd Hollywood power player, no more noble than any of that breed. This book has room for all that . . . “–Janet Maslin, “Cool Books for Hot Days,” The New York Times, 5/22/15.
“It might be easier to capture a unicorn than to pin down the almost-mythological Joan Didion, whose intricate prose and enigmatic persona have long bewitched her admirers. Daugherty, brave soul, has written a big, unauthorized biography that explores the life, work and influence of this brilliant writer and social critic whose character is as contradictory as America itself.”–Cathleen Medwick, “The Hot Five: Books to Make the Season Sizzle,” More, Jul/Aug 2015.
“The Last Love Song is a great example of non-fiction that reads like fiction. Daugherty deliberately respects the privacy of the reclusive journalist Joan Didion, instead journeying back in time to follow Didion’s growth into adult life. Touching interviews provided by those who know Didion well help make this biography into a loving tribute to a great literary figure.”–Emma Oulton, Bustle, “11 of Summer 2015’s Best Non-Fiction Books,” 6/4/15.
“Even if you’ve read ALL of Didion’s work, you will find yourself impossibly immersed in this intense look into Didion’s life as a writer and brilliant human.”–hellogiggles.com.
“From the 1960s through the 1980s, Joan Didion, now 80, was the best recorder of American traumas, arguably better than Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, or any other New Journalist. Daugherty . . . may be the ideal writer to chronicle her life and achievement . . . Didion[‘s] . . . critical vision is best captured obliquely, in fractured images that convey a feeling of unease without proof of its cause: the real narrative of the times is hidden behind appearances . . . A strong biography. Who won’t want to read this ‘hot’ book?”–Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW, 5/1/15.
“An eloquent work on the life of Joan Didion, fashioning her story as no less than the rupture of the American narrative. Didion’s works of fiction, nonfiction, and journalism relentlessly probed the times in which they emerged. In this wonderfully engaging biography, Daugherty . . . wisely sticks to Didion’s near obsession with making sense of an increasingly incoherent narrative during the tumultuous decades of the waning 20th century . . . A dogged biographer elicits from Didion’s life much more than tidy observations of ‘morality and culture.'”–Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW, 5/6/15.
“Having proven his chops as a biographer, Daugherty’s new book tackles the behemoth task of writing a biography of Joan Didion, one of the most well loved essayists and writers of our time . . . Daugherty pays tribute to a career and life well spent.”–Entertainment Monthly, 6/12/15.
“Daugherty is known for delivering notable biographies of literary lions, including Joseph Heller. Here he takes on the queen of the lionesses.”–Allen Salkin, The New York Daily News, 5/3/15.
“The first serious biography . . . of the supremely talented and critically acclaimed writer Joan Didion covers everything from her sunbaked Sacramento youth to her days with husband and frequent co-writer John Gregory Dunne.”–Entertainment Weekly, 5/15/15.
“Daugherty . . . offers a monumental, novelistic examination of Joan Didion’s life and career. The book’s impressively detailed attention to place, beginning with Didion’s California origins, grounds Didion’s development as both a fiction writer and journalist who served as ‘our keenest observer of the chaos’ of the 1960s and beyond . . . settl[ing] into confident, engrossing prose when focusing on Didion’s literary achievements . . . Daugherty crafts a complex, intricately shaded portrait of a woman also known for her inner toughness and intellectual rigor. This landmark work renders a nuanced analysis of a literary life, lauds Didion’s indelible contributions to American literature and journalism (especially New Journalism) and documents a ‘style [that] has become the music of our time.'”–Publisher’s Weekly, 4/6/15.
“The talented Daugherty sympathetically recounts Didion’s rise to preeminence as a writer, her marriage to John Gregory Dunne, and the incredible loss she suffered when her husband and their only child died within the same year.”–James McGrath Morris, The Washington Independent Review of Books, 2/20/15.
As part of its prestigious Poetry and Fiction Series, Johns Hopkins University Press has published the new story collection THE EMPIRE OF THE DEAD.
“In this new collection, Tracy Daugherty is the maestro of middle age, and his recurrent character, Bern, is an everyman of modern times. Daugherty writes with great skill, empathy and humor of Bern’s travails and longings. THE EMPIRE OF THE DEAD is a superb book of stories that will burnish Daugherty’s already formidable reputation as a contemporary master of short fiction.”–Greg Johnson
“While Tracy Daugherty’s intricate, intriguing, and interconnected stories in THE EMPIRE OF THE DEAD are relentlessly narrative they invoke Donald Barthelme’s observation that collage is the art form of the century. These rich fictions are amalgams, jeweled aggregates, beautiful breccia that sculpt the word, matrix by matrix, into lyric concreteness. Like Barthelme, Daugherty works the leading edge of this gorgeous junk phenomena, transforming these complex meditations of our states of being into wholly new and sublime states of matter.”–Michael Martone
Dzanc Books has made available, as e-books, the novels DESIRE PROVOKED, THE BOY ORATOR, and AXEMAN’S JAZZ, as well the short story collections THE WOMAN IN THE OIL FIELD, IT TAKES A WORRIED MAN, LATE IN THE STANDOFF, and ONE DAY THE WIND CHANGED. You may order the books at dzancbooks.org/reprint-series-books.
“No one who isn’t a truly great literary biographer would have any business at all going near the life of Heller. It is a mark of our current wonderful literary fortune that we have at work in 21st century America two literary biographers working different regions of the same late 20th century literary landscape with equivalent brilliance: Blake Bailey, author of biographies of Richard Yates and John Cheever, and Daugherty, who has now written definitive biographies of Donald Barthelme and Heller.”–Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News, 8/6/11.
“Mr. Daugherty has produced the definitive life of Heller, a stringent portrait of the man embedded in a panorama of his era.”–James Camp, The New York Observer, 8/2/11.
“[A] fine biography of Heller.”–Christopher Buckley, The New York Times Book Review, 11/27/11.
“Daugherty, who just last year published a terrific biography of Donald Barthelme, delivers another compelling work upon the 50th anniversary of Heller’s most important book, ‘Catch-22.'”–Kansas City Star, TOP 100 BOOKS of 2011, 12/2/11.
“It is the rare biographer who can craft a cinematic narrative out of uncooperative real life . . . Tracy Daugherty, author of the Donald Barthelme biography ‘Hiding Man,’ proves again in ‘Just One Catch’ that he is that rare biographer, one who possesses journalistic integrity and appeals to readers of fiction and nonfiction alike. Daugherty thoughtfully probes Heller’s work and interior . . . But the author also swivels the camera past his subject at the world around him. What emerges is not simply a portrait of an artist, though it is a brilliant one, but also a literary history of post-World War II America and a deeper rumination on the state of literature and writing in an absurd world.”–Claire Fuqua Anderson, Shelf Awareness, STARRED REVIEW, 8/16/11.
“Daugherty combines a novelist’s flair for character and narrative with astute critical analysis of Heller’s work. He’s especially strong on context, providing the political, literary, personal, and broader cultural milieu in which each of Heller’s books was produced. Daugherty’s . . . rigorous book is a Heller-worthy smorgasbord.”–Heller McAlpin, The Washington Post, 8/18/11.
“Tracy Daugherty’s ‘Just One Catch’ is a large literary biography, rich with anecdote. Daugherty is an accomplished fiction writer, and much of his book reads like a novel. There are some wonderful verbal touches . . . such writing eggs me on to read more Daugherty.”–Seth Lerer, The San Francisco Chronicle, 8/21/11.
“Each page is a joy for fans of big-picture breakthrough creativity. Daugherty highlights Heller’s genius for sensing trend shifts, such as from the old fogey 50s to the swinging, sexy 60s, from Ike to JFK.”–Tom Dodge, The Dallas Morning News, 8/7/11.
“Tracy Daugherty has written a remarkable biography of Joseph Heller, one that tells us not only about the man but about the world that made him . . . this is a moving portrait of the author. The greatest measure of the merit of a literary biography is whether or not it instills in the reader a desire to read more of the writer’s work, or to re-read the author’s work with a better understanding. That is the most intimate acquaintance we can hope to make, and Daugherty’s biography of Joseph Heller, a fine literary work itself, does just that.”–Burbank Library Blog, 9/20/11.
“The thrill of this biography is in the years and months leading up to Heller’s breakout book . . . Mr. Daugherty is an evocative writer and an astute literary critic.”–The Economist, 10/8/11.
“[An] excellent biography . . . A fine writer himself, Daugherty is at his best when evoking the worlds Heller inhabited through the course of his life: Coney Island in the 1930s, the Catskills in the 1940s, the Manhattan literary scene and Heller’s East Hampton retreat from it in the 1980s and 1990s.”–Jewish Book World, Fall 2011.
“[A} comprehensive biography . . . .While Norman Mailer (The Naked and the Dead) and James Jones (From Here to Eternity) published bestsellers on the war, Heller quietly wrote the novel that was to eclipse them both. Daugherty is at his best at depicting how he set out to write a very different book than his realist contemporaries, one whose slapstick style and fragmented structure would capture the lethal idiocies of war.”–Stephen Amidon, The London Sunday Times, 10/9/11.
“From Daugherty we learn the facts . . . Daugherty traces the development of Heller’s style, which was part literary, part Borscht Belt spiel, and aimed entirely at the mass market.”–Ian Sansom, The Guardian, 11/17/11.
“For those interested in a discussion of Heller’s life and legacy that traces his place in a generation that included Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, J.D. Salinger, James Baldwin, Grace Paley, Kurt Vonnegut, John Updike, and Jack Kerouac, Tracy Daugherty’s biography of the man does the job well.”–Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, The Washington Times, 11/25/11.
“For Tracy Daugherty . . . the experience of combat is key not just to Heller’s most justifiably celebrated novel but to the comic mindset that would invent at least a few of the terms by which 20th-century America could begin to process and understand itself . . . Daugherty makes it impossible to deny the influence of not just the Marx Brothers but also the rhythms of Yiddish theater and Borscht Belt humor on Heller’s writing.”–Akiva Gottlieb, Tablet Magazine, 11/28/11.
“The principal achievement of Daugherty’s JUST ONE CATCH is documenting the extent of [Robert] Gottlieb’s handiwork [with CATCH-22]. The question the book raises, making it more valuable than other conventional literary biographies, is how many other classic books were the result of similar teamwork.”–Richard Kostelanetz, reason.com, December 2011.
“This first biography of Heller . . . is especially good on his finances and on the making of the film of Catch-22.”–Jeffrey Meyers, Literary Review, 10/1/11.
“‘Just One Catch’ . . . will be sought out by ‘Catch-22’ fans as it details the genesis of the book that had such a profound impact on Vietnam-era America. Daugherty documents how Heller, who flew 60 bombing missions during the Second World War, shunned the realism of contemporaries like Norman Mailer and James Jones to write a different ‘war novel’ by combining black humour and dark horror to capture the true nature of mass slaughter. It’s worth revisiting.”–Andrew Donaldson, The London Sunday Times, 10/11/11.
“Given the stature of Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch-22’ . . . it’s surprising that a comprehensive biography of the author didn’t surface sooner. Fortunately Tracy Daugherty has filled this yawning gap. ‘Just One Catch’ has countless insightful, amusing anecdotes from Heller’s childhood, military service and postpublication notoriety. But the writing, publishing and ensuing aftermath of ‘Catch-22’ is the clear focal point . . . This biography is a welcome occasion for examining not only Heller’s achievements but the way they anticipate predicaments in which America currently finds itself.”–Elizabeth Nelson, TimeOut New York, 8/5/11.
“Mr. Daugherty’s book is more than an academic investigation of Heller’s work, and he brings the skills of an accomplished biographer to unearthing the sometimes painful episodes of his subject’s life . . . It’s a well-told story that will more than satisfy the countless admirers of Heller’s work, while introducing others to his fascinating life and career.”–Harvey Freedenberg, Bookreporter.com, 8/6/11.
“In riveting detail, Daugherty describes Heller’s tour of duty as a bombardier stationed in Corsica . . . A highlight of this biography is the journey of Heller’s satiric classic from conception to delivery.”–Ariel Gonzalez, The Miami Herald, 8/7/11.
“Daugherty has done his research. He has talked to everyone who knew Heller and immersed himself in the history of postwar American publishing . . . [He] is adept at probing Heller’s relationship with his ethnicity.”–Morley Walker, The Winnipeg Free Press, 8/6/11.
“In ‘Just One Catch,’ his reconstruction of the life of Joseph Heller, Tracy Daugherty has also illuminated the post-World War II culture of American fiction–from the emergence of Jewish sensibilities as a key narrative element to the influence of mass advertising and television to the corporatization of book publishing. It’s about time for such a comprehensive biography.”–Edward Morris,BookPage, 8/1/11.
“‘Just One Catch’ shows the path Heller took to become the man who could write the novel and where he went from there. Daugherty is good at explaining the evolution of Heller’s writing career.”–Carolyn Kellogg, The Los Angeles Times, 8/21/11.
“In ‘Just One Catch,’ the first biography of the last of a certain type of lion, Tracy Daugherty shows us an artist whose triumphant iconoclasm set in motion his own extinction.”–Walter Kirn, Slate, 8/2/11.
“Daugherty has managed a prodigious feat of research . . . [he has] a real feeling for Heller’s work and the odd jumble of influences that led to it. Daugherty is often perceptive about Heller’s place in the larger culture.”–Blake Bailey, The New York Times Book Review, 8/28/11.
“Daugherty is undaunted . . . he feels that his biography might just gin up some excitement around an author whose most popular book is now 50 years old. ‘I think we’re at a time right now where art is being questioned, and literature’s power is being questioned, so the main thing I want is for younger readers to see literature as an ongoing, very powerful art form,’ Daugherty said. ‘People like Heller and [Donald] Barthelme took it very seriously, and did make changes in the way people thought. We haven’t lost that. If we lose it, it’s because we’re doing it to ourselves, it’s not because the form has lost its power.'”–Kevin Canfield, Salon, 8/14/11.
“Daugherty is an accomplished writer . . . [His] exploration of Heller’s handling of success is a leitmotif in ‘Just One Catch.'”–John Strawn, The Oregonian, 8/7/11.
“Heller’s zest for life animates this astute character study of the man behind the masterpiece ‘Catch-22,’ which drew on combat experiences (and moral quandaries) that had haunted the novelist since WW II. In spite of the title, there’s no catch. You’ll love the vibrant personality who set the irony bar high for the 60s.”–AARP, September/October 2011.
“Biographer Daugherty calls Heller’s debut novel ‘the bible of American black humor’ . . . [its] title became an indispensible part of our lexicon.”–Deirdre Donahue, USA Today, 8/1/11.
“The first important biography to arrive about Heller . . . Mr. Daugherty’s book ultimately rekindles great interest in Heller’s work.”–Janet Maslin, The New York Times, 7/28/11.
“Literary biographer extraordinaire Daugherty traces the slow brewing of Heller’s now-classic satirical war novel ‘Catch-22’ . . . Brilliantly detailed and constructively analytical, Daugherty’s groundbreaking portrait of the prophetic, contradictory, and essential Joseph Heller is dramatic and revelatory.”–Donna Seaman, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW, 6/1/11.
“Daugherty has a natural feel for the texture of Heller’s worlds, both physical and cultural . . . Essential reading about a writer whose major novels continue to command attention.”–Kirkus, 6/1/11.
“Daugherty serves up a breezy, entertaining, and well-researched biography worthy in tone and scope of his subject . . . an adroit portrait of the artist who dared to bring a humorous sensibility to the tragedy of modern warfare.”–Publisher’s Weekly, STARRED REVIEW, 5/16/11.
“Daugherty paints a memorable portrait on a large canvas. The result will be as profitable for newcomers to Heller as for the well-versed.”–Library Journal, 6/15/11.
The August 2011 issue of VANITY FAIR magazine contains an adaptation of the Joseph Heller biography JUST ONE CATCH. Entitled “The War for CATCH-22,” it can be found at www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2011/08/heller-201108.
THE PARIS REVIEW’s daily website includes an essay about the writing of JUST ONE CATCH. Entitled “The Angel of Forgetfulness,” it can be located at www.theparisreview.org/blog/2011/08/01/the-angel-of-forgetfulness/.
To listen to NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show, featuring a conversation with me and Erica Heller, link to http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2011-10-31/tracy-daugherty-just-one-catch-biograhy-joseph-heller .
The Library of America’s blog site features my post on the 50th anniversary of the publication of CATCH-22. It can be located at http://blog.loa.org/2011/tracy-daugherty-on-50th-anniversary-of.html.
“[The book] puts [Daugherty’s] distinctive Texas sensibility on full display in a variety of forms . . . a wide range in terms of length [and] also in narrative structure and technique . . . the [stories] are written in a taut, colorful prose style in which few words are wasted and the language used is rich in perception and insight . . . Taken as a whole, this is a masterful collection by an abundantly talented writer.”–Greg Johnson, The Georgia Review, Winter 2010
“The lone characters in Daugherty’s . . . loose-limbed, well-developed stories brave a sense of isolation as big as the arid Texas landscape they mostly inhabit . . . With their strong sense of historical context, Daugherty’s stories are stirring and relevant.”–Publisher’s Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
“[Daugherty’s] writing and vision of our spiritual poverty is impressive . . . the stories’ objective is . . . to demonstrate loneliness[;] they succeed beautifully, thoughtfully and evocatively.”–Sarah Cypher, The Oregonian
“For anyone, [Daugherty’s] characters will resonate.”–Maggie Galehouse, The Houston Chronicle
“Tracy Daugherty’s new book collects 16 disturbing, cerebral stories . . . They vary in length and intent, but all involve characters easy to overlook, yet interesting to know . . . Often humorous . . . [they frequently] touch . . . on a troubling real-life event that haunts one of the characters . . . Certain motifs reappear. More than once, characters have difficulty breathing, from asthma or maybe from a lack of something essential. Architects build careful environments, only to have them knocked down. Astronomers and other scientists–actually ordinary people–probe the universe. Daugherty’s stories tend to be interior and thought-provoking, while offering touching pictures of lonely folks.”–Anne Morris, The Dallas Morning News
“A dreamy boy who suffers from asthma, studies architecture, and solaces himself by looking up at the stars in the night sky, appears in many of these luminous short stories. West Texas is his home, but homelessness is his state of mind . . . catastrophes that flatten landscapes [are referred to] . . . but he is a builder, who can design new structures. He knows that great cities wax and wane and wax again.”–Barbara Fisher, The Boston Globe
“The desert is a vast, empty place–or is it? Daugherty reflects on the desert, using it as a metaphor for the emptiness of life and the search for something more. Profound and thoughtful, Daugherty gives readers a lot to expect and enjoy . . . leading to a fulfilling read that will be hard to put down.”–Midwest Book Review, REVIEWER’S CHOICE
“Daugherty’s stories are finely crafted and multi-layered. He is bold in his exploration of a variety of forms and has an eye for evocative detail and an unerring ear for . . . dialogue. There are occasional flashes of humor and touches of whimsical fantasy as well, despite the often somber atmosphere.”–Robert Woltman, The Albuquerque Journal
On July 22, 2010, in New York’s Madison Square Park, the National Book Foundation hosted a celebration of Donald Barthelme’s work, “A Strange Object Covered in Fur Which Breaks Your Heart.” I moderated the discussion/reading which featured Stacey D’Erasmo, David Gates, and Emily Barton. About seventy people came to share their enthusiasm for Barthelme’s fiction, including his youngest daughter, Katharine (“Born Dancin'”) whom I was pleased to see after so many years. Thanks to everyone who came, to Stacey, David, and Emily for their generosity and insight, and to Leslie Shipman of the National Book Foundation for giving us the opportunity to celebrate and have so much fun on a pleasant evening in NewYork City.
“Barthelme would undoubtedly be pleased with [his] first full-scale biography, Hiding Man, a genuine literary masterpiece penned by his former student, Tracy Daugherty. One cannot read this book without recognizing that Barthelme was the dominant writer of his generation or that Daugherty will be one of the leading literary biographers of his own”–Jacob M. Appel, Rain Taxi, Winter 2009/2010.