This is William Saroyan’s forty-sixth book. Like most of his latter-day works, it is anecdotal, sentimental, and professionally Armenian. There are small glimmers of the Saroyan of the mid-1930’s, the man who wrote so movingly in the short story collection The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, but not many. On the law of averages there would not be, since the memoir is only 135 pages long, and those pages are about one-third margin; and what the book lacks in length it makes up in incoherent paragraph-long sentences. Consider the following:What these geniuses put forward is very little, compared with the potential, or with the original itself, all things already and for billions of years real and in place, but it is the only thing we have that is our own, that we have made, and after ourselves, after our continuous putting forward of ourselves, through the procedure invented or given as a gift by nature to all continuing things, after our most astonishing falling in with the procedure, our successful recreation of ourselves over billions of years, in all of our various forms, these things, this art, made by our madmen, our disgruntled boys, our violent girls, our geniuses, our refusers, our frequently sick boys and girls, these homemade things are all that we have, all that we call culture, civilization, and mortal glory.
If Saroyan has a valid place in American letters, it is as a short story writer. Memoirs such as the current work do nothing to enhance his reputation; this, his eighth work in the genre, is plotless, pointless, and prolix. He manifests none of the keenness of septuagenarian V. S. Pritchett, nor the wit of the late P. G. Wodehouse, despite the fact that he is barely three score years and ten and makes much of it. Chance Meetings offers no surprises to those who have followed Saroyan’s career.
Saroyan’s effort in this work is to define ideal friendships as brief chance meetings, complete in themselves, with no past and no future. The chance meetings in this memoir, however, are spotty and lack any central theme other than that suggested by the title. There are a few bright spots, but by and large this thin book is not rewarding. As Saroyan meanders down memory lane, however, he does introduce us to a few interesting characters.
In some of the sketches the reader will recognize the germ of a tale, as in the chapter concerning a Mormon beauty and a would-be writer, and the lie that the writer lived. Yet even in these, Saroyan does not take the reader into his confidence, thus...
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