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Wheatyard: more unconscious influences

Several years ago I posted about unconscious literary influences - specifically, bits of Kent Haruf's Plainsong - that somehow snuck into my novel-in-progress, Wheatyard. The Haruf influences were relatively minor. But when I read Joe Pintauro's 1988 Algren essay just last week, I was floored by this passage that describes Algren's house in Sag Harbor:

Almost every inch of wall space was covered with heavy framed homemade collages consisting of old headlines, letters, clippings, and photos depicting the recent history of the world in terms of rape, war, sports, violence, literature, and art. Framed photographs, paintings, and documents hung from thick nails that bristled the walls. At the foot of the stairs was a huge blowup of the famous photograph of a Vietnamese girl, doused with napalm and running toward the camera screaming. Nearby, another blowup depicted a man from Bangladesh carrying his wife, who looked as if she had been beaten or raped. From the walls stared D. H. Lawrence, Marcel Proust, and Abraham Lincoln: "The family heirloom is that Lincoln — my grandmother saved that. It was from Lincoln's assassination. She was in New York at the time. Oh, I’ve got stuff don’t have room for," he said in all innocence. "I’ve got almost all the wall space used up that I can." Only the corner where he kept his desk and typewriter was spartan and clean.

The plastered-wall aspect of Algren's house is heavily echoed by Wheatyard's living room, which is similarly covered with magazine advertisements, studio photos of old movie actors, German Expressionist artworks and the like. But the strange thing is that until I read Pintauro's description of Algren's house last week, I had absolutely no recollection of it. I certainly hadn't read Pintauro's piece before.

The only place I could have possibly read that description was from Bettina Drew's autobiography of Algren, A Life On the Wild Side. I checked my copy, and discovered that Drew had indeed quoted from the Pintauro passage, though I hadn't remembered that at all. So while I hadn't read the biography since around 1998, I didn't write my own description of Wheatyard's living room until 2005 or 2006. And yet somehow Pintauro's description of Algren's house (via Drew) must have subconsciously stayed with me all that time, and finally resurfaced as I wrote about Wheatyard's own eccentric dwelling, years later. Odd how the mind works.

May 16, 2011 in Books, Wheatyard | Permalink

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