James Agee (Magill's Literary Annual 1985)
Some figures are not necessarily well served by a biographical study. The romance of legend may tell a more pleasing tale than recovered fact. Such is the case with James Agee. At the beginning of his career, when he was still a student at Harvard University, he wrote of himself, “If I can’t, someday, be a great or nearly great writer, I don’t want to write at all—and there’s nothing else in the world I want to do. I’d rather not live than to live in the failure of what I might have done.” Although written in the assurance of his youth, his statement proved all too drearily prophetic. Agee’s messy and wasteful life was a kind of self-flagellation for what he was not. What he was, was a writer of rich talent and virtuosity. What he was not was a writer with the objectivity and discipline to use his gifts in the ways they demanded. Agee tried his hand at many kinds of writing. As Laurence Bergreen’s thoughtful and understanding biography James Agee: A Life makes clear, the results, while often impressive and even wondrous, were less than they should have been.
The outlines of Agee’s childhood are well-known to those familiar with his short novels, The Morning Watch (1951) and A Death in the Family (1957), or with the stage or screen versions of the second book. As a boy he idolized his warm and outgoing father, although he felt that he failed to live up to his father’s expectations. After Jay Agee was...
(The entire section is 2204 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1985)
American Film. IX, September, 1984, p. 57.
Christian Science Monitor. LXXVI, July 27, 1984, p. 17.
Library Journal. CIX, June 15, 1984, p. 1236.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. July 15, 1984, p. 2.
Macleans. XCVII, July 30, 1984, p. 49.
New Leader. LXVII, August 6, 1984, p. 18.
The New Republic. CXCI, September 3, 1984, p. 25.
New York. XVII, July 23, 1984, p. 50.
The New York Times Book Review. LXXXIX, July 8, 1984, p. 1.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXV, May 18, 1984, p. 138.
Time. CXXIV, July 2, 1984, p. 85.
(The entire section is 61 words.)