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For the next three decades, his fiction shuttled back and forth between Gibbsville and New York. Many of his short stories have stood the test of time, but as a novelist he never surpassed his first efforts. His novels of the mid-thirties are his classics, and they deserve to be much more famous than they are. When he was drinking roughly, from to , he was notorious for picking fights with whoever had the bad luck to be standing at the other end of a bar.
Sobriety curbed his temper, but not his violent yearning for recognition or his self-punishing snobbery. He was addicted to the tokens of success.
It was a sort of obsession of his. To his lasting chagrin, he never attended college. When he was still in high school, his father died suddenly, leaving the family penniless. He was morbidly conscious of being Irish American. On the topics of class, sex, and alcohol—that is, the topics that mattered to him—his novels amount to a secret history of American life. So do his stories. You can binge on his collections the way some people binge on Mad Men , and for some of the same reasons.
Paradoxically, this gives the effect of depth. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn. Class dismissed. He feels for—feels with —the Cohns of the world. In BUtterfield 8 , a Jewish movie executive named Kahan is taken to lunch at the club of his architect, a gentile named Farley. In the locker room, Kahan bumps into an old college classmate, Weston Liggett. The moment is awkward.
I had to have the play by play. Liggett has affairs to even the score; Jimmy talks tough. Scott Fitzgerald. To put it simplistically, Gloria is a sexual subject, not an object. Even more striking, we see Gloria in a close, erotically charged friendship with a man, Eddie Brunner, who loves her and is not her lover. Even so, even now, you could hardly place the book on a high school syllabus.