They Went That-a-way

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Contrary to his publisher’s claim, Malcolm Forbes neither “probes” into the circumstances nor “solves” the mysteries behind the deaths of any of his subjects. He simply reports--and tries to sensationalize--facts and speculations previously published elsewhere (though he provides no bibliography). In some instances, his accounts are not informed by recent findings (for example, his piece on Oscar Wilde), and sometimes totally wrong information is passed along (Virginia Woolf’s A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN is not a novel).

No doubt, Forbes has devised a moneymaker in compiling this book of known to little-known or forgotten facts about the deaths of famous people, especially since more than half of the figures discussed here were celebrities in twentieth century America. Famous names--such as Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Elvis Presley--do indeed seem to guarantee sales for essays, tabloids, magazines, and books. In this respect, it seems hypocritical of Forbes--when discussing Monroe and Presley, for example--to sneer at the numerous individuals who have capitalized upon famous names after those names’ owners have died.

Forbes’s publisher claims that Forbes wrote this book because “he’s intrigued, surprised, and even amused . . . by the ways the great, the famous, and the infamous met their ends.” The reader may find, however, that the effect is that of attending 175 open-casket funerals.