Form and Content

Places Where I’ve Done Time is not a formal autobiography but a collection of sixty-eight vignettes, some shorter than one page and none longer than three pages, describing places, houses, hotels, or buildings (in one case, a water tank) that had some significance in William Saroyan’s life. Each of the sections also carries a date. None of the little essays leads into or connects with another; in fact, in order to indicate further that the reader should not take the book as a formal account of the author’s life, Saroyan mixes locales and time periods rather than proceeding chronologically. The first section, which describes a racetrack in San Francisco, is dated 1932; the next, an account of Saroyan’s brother Henry’s visit with aging poet Joaquin Miller, is from 1912; and the third is a description of the apartment where Saroyan lived in 1929 after returning from a failed effort to be a writer in New York. The last two essays describe Paris in 1969, but just before they appear there is an account of a flower shop in San Francisco in 1930. Either Saroyan wrote the essays in a random fashion, describing the places as he happened to remember them, or, if he did start with the history of his life in mind, he shuffled the pages.

The content of these essays is also not easy to organize. In most of them, Saroyan uses the place that he is describing to explain something that happened to him in that spot, such as his bitter disappointment at...

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