Always Straight Ahead (Magill Book Reviews)
Alma Neuman was born in upstate New York in 1922. Her father was a rather unimaginative businessman and her mother a talented and vivacious Viennese. A lonely child, she befriended a rather distinguished American professor and his family at Hamilton College. Her family was Jewish, and her acceptance by the Saunders family represented an unusual social opportunity in the anti-Semitic 1930’s. Alma was a welcome addition to the family string quartet, and she and the Saunders’ son fell in love.
One of the Saunders’ daughters brought James Agee, then a Harvard senior of great promise, to meet the family. Alma made the greatest impression, however, and several years after they first met she and Agee ran off to live a bohemian idyll. They motored through the South, visited the Tingle family, poor Alabama sharecroppers whose lives would be immortalized in Agee’s LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN, and hobnobbed with Agee’s collaborator, photographer Walker Evans, and the poets Muriel Rukeyser and Delmore Schwartz.
The spell was broken when Agee fell in love with another woman during Alma’s first pregnancy. In 1941, separated from Agee, Alma Neuman and her infant son, Joel, moved to Mexico, where she met the Communist writer, Budo Uhse, a German exile. He fell in love with her, and she was grateful for his sincere affection for Joel. Agee journeyed to Mexico to see his son and bring his family back to the States, but Alma eventually returned to...
(The entire section is 449 words.)
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Always Straight Ahead (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
In the late 1970’s, long after his death (1955), Alma Neuman received a letter from her first husband, the famous American journalist, novelist, and film critic James Agee. Written in 1953, the letter had taken more than twenty years to reach her. A “stranger” had found the letter among Agee’s manuscripts shortly after his death, misplaced it, and then found it again years later and sent it on. Agee had remarried, was the father of two children by his second wife (Alma was the mother of Agee’s first child, Joel), had taken an “Irish girl” as lover, and yet, despite all the intervening years, confessed in this long-lost letter that he still loved Alma more than his second wife and his mistress.
Receiving this letter was a great shock for Alma Neuman, who had built an entirely different life for herself after Agee had fallen in love with another woman while she was pregnant with Joel. In 1941, when the couple separated, Alma took Joel to Mexico on what was supposed to be a long vacation. Agee eventually journeyed to Mexico to bring her and his son back to the United States, but she chose to return to Mexico and stay with a German emigre’ writer, Bodo Uhse, who offered her the emotional stability that Agee was unable to provide.
Uhse was also a marvelous father to Joel, and Alma was as grateful for his attention to the child as she was touched by his adoration of her. There was, however, a problem. Sex with Uhse was not what it...
(The entire section is 1485 words.)