Monday, April 2, 2018
Whither, Irwin Shaw?
Shaw, once among the most famous of contemporary American authors, was an inspiration to me even before I knew I'd ever write a novel. His books took in large casts of characters, included big, life-changing events and never really ended the way the most optimistic reader would hope they might.
He was a storyteller before all else, and the peerless screenwriter/novelist William Goldman (The Princess Bride, Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) once told me Shaw was his idol before he knew he'd ever write a novel.
Shaw's most famous work, Rich Man, Poor Man was turned into a television miniseries that became something of a phenomenon and launched the career of Nick Nolte, for better or worse. It spawned a sequel (Beggarman, Thief) and cemented Shaw on the top of the 1970s bestseller lists.
I knew his novels because my mother never missed a Shaw book and I read them when she had finished. He never wrote about the kind of people or events I would end up using in my stories, but his style was direct and he never got flowery. Some writers never met an adjective they didn't like; Shaw told you what was happening and shoehorned in description so quietly it never announced itself to the reader.
Because there are some Shaw books I've never read I checked around online for copies and was amazed to discover that pretty much all his works are no longer in print. A search on Audible indicates that there are two Shaw books recorded on audio; they're both translated into Russian. Which doesn't help me much.
It's a sign that although books last forever, only a tiny fraction of authors are remembered much longer than their careers last. Perhaps that is a testament to those whose names we can recall decades or centuries after their deaths. But maybe it's also an indictment of a society that lets some of the best storytellers vanish with their times.
Above is the cover of one of my favorite Irwin Shaw novels. If you can find a copy in a used bookstore, I urge you to try it out. If not, I urge you to try one of mine. I'm not totally altruistic.