False Starts (Magill's Literary Annual 1977)
The relationship between the convict writer and the reader who consciously reads the work of a convict produces a subtext that distorts and sometimes overwhelms the text on the page. Whether he writes fiction or nonfiction, in a cell or in a room in the free world, the convict writer, no matter how honest he attempts to be, speaks in a made-up voice, and almost against his will, cons first himself, then the reader. Going before the Adult Authority for a parole hearing produces similar psychological manipulations. Whether sympathetic to the plight of convicts or not, the reader, approaching the author with a desire to understand mingled with plain curiosity, cannot totally trust the convict writer, knowing his need to rationalize, his natural inclination, trained by habit, to con, and the inherent tendency of rhetoric itself to slant or distort. Thus, the convict writer writes and the self-conscious reader reads out of assumptions and expectations regarding each other that render the relationship between writer and reader more complex and murky than it normally is. It is in that context that Malcolm Braly’s autobiography False Starts: A Memoir of San Quentin and Other Prisons, interests us, for though it is relatively well-written, neither the man nor his experiences are extraordinary enough in themselves to warrant a book. What the reader experiences, then, is the interplay between Braly’s assumptions about himself and the reader’s assumptions about...
(The entire section is 1993 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1977)
Best Sellers. XXXVI, May, 1976, p. 45.
Book World. May 2, 1976, p. L7.
National Observer. XV, March 20, 1976, p. 21.
New York Times Book Review. February 29, 1976, p. 6.
Newsweek. LXXXVII, March 15, 1976, p. 91.
Saturday Review. XXXVIII, January 24, 1976, p. 38.
(The entire section is 31 words.)