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Now and Then: From Coney Island to Here

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2001

    A Fine Representation of Heller's Psychology and Style

    If you are like me, you are tempted by autobiographies of writers whose work you love. You hope to get that extra bit of insight that will expand your appreciation of their writing. Usually, these hints come from long passages about writing and inspiration concerning those works. In Now and Then, Mr. Heller is more laconic about that sort of information than many writers are. On the other hand, he is very generous in explaining his personal psychology, demons, work habits, and writing blocks. You will come to appreciate that Mr. Heller is a man beset by some important demons who overcomes them with wry wit that delights almost everyone. The book's weakness is that you will perhaps get more knowledge about Coney Island in the 1930s than you had counted on. If you are from Coney Island, on the other hand, you will revel in all of the myriad details and will want to give this book more than five stars. Mr. Heller takes great pleasure in his success, his career, his recognition, and his accomplishments. He takes equal delight in his ability to use language with precision and erudition. The autobiography allows him plenty of opportunities to focus on all of these pleasing elements. To make this self-indulgence more palatable to the reader, he pokes a bit of fun at himself with gentle irony. But all of this seeming self-indulgence is really procrastination to delay dealing with the painful parts of his life story. His father's death while he was young, and later exposure to the horrors of war in World War II left a deep stamp on his emotional make-up. The book describes an important catharsis as Mr. Heller identifies what he learned from psychoanalysis and the pscyhological testing that his employers applied. His self-descriptions perfectly mirror his characterization of what happened in a typical psychoanalysis session. He would tell witty stories, jokes, and did everything possible to please the analyst . . . so he would not have to focus on the problems that faced him that day. And so the book does the same. I came away with a new appreciation for Mr. Heller after coming to see how much of his great writing and humor serve as his defense against deep emotional wounds. I hope that we can all learn how to cope as well. After you finish this book, think about where you procrastinate. What is it that you are trying to avoid facing about yourself? Tell the truth . . . and make it interesting if you want to help others! You may also help youself. Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution

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