I Was Howard Hughes

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Overview

Part Great Gatsby, part This Is Spinal Tap, Steven Carter's hilarious debut paints a fictional portrait of a biographer, his notorious subject, and the illusions we hold about fame and fortune.

Howard Hughes embodied the American dream: envied by powerful men, desired by beautiful women, Hughes lived his life larger than all who surrounded him and yet died an emaciated recluse.

This makes him the perfect subject for red-hot biographer Alton ...

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I Was Howard Hughes

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Overview

Part Great Gatsby, part This Is Spinal Tap, Steven Carter's hilarious debut paints a fictional portrait of a biographer, his notorious subject, and the illusions we hold about fame and fortune.

Howard Hughes embodied the American dream: envied by powerful men, desired by beautiful women, Hughes lived his life larger than all who surrounded him and yet died an emaciated recluse.

This makes him the perfect subject for red-hot biographer Alton Reece. Riding high on the wave of previous astonishing successes, Reece sees Hughes as more than simply a name worth the seven-figure advance he's demanding from his publisher. He finds in Hughes a kindred spirit of greatness, a man misunderstood and beaten down by jealous inferiors. But even as Reece struggles to "know" his subject, his own rapidly unraveling life keeps finding unexpected ways to intrude.

With a deft comic touch and an astounding narrative style, Steven Carter's novel creates a picture of a Hughes that might have been, a biographer that can't separate his subject from his own visions of grandeur, and a public that demands its heroes be larger than life-if only so they can be more easily torn down.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a work of extraordinary humor and pathos."-Frederick Barthelme"
Frederick Barthelme
"This is a work of extraordinary humor and pathos."
Publishers Weekly
Carter offers a cheeky look at the relationship between biographer and subject in his sly debut novel about an unconventional, egotistical author who takes on a Howard Hughes book project and finds himself identifying with his bizarre subject as his own existence begins to crumble in a disturbingly similar fashion. Aldon Reece is the biographer whose agent talks him into doing a book about Hughes, modeled after Reece's unconventional portrait of Herman Melville in Melville and the Whale, an offbeat unexpected bestseller. In his introduction, Reece offers some snide comments about being snubbed for a significant book award, then launches into his account of Hughes's life, using the same strange format he employed with the Melville bio. An odd, ponderous collection of (mostly fictional) quotes by and about Hughes is followed by an extended chapter on Hughes's relationships with the likes of Ava Gardner and Katharine Hepburn as well as his marriage to Jean Peters. As Reece transcribes his own interviews with earlier biographers, revelations begin to surface that betray his arrogant sense of superiority and then a Hughes-like penchant for paranoia when he is faced with setbacks. Carter does a nice job of contrasting Reece's neuroses with the over-the-top Hughes material, which focuses mostly on the early years when Hughes established himself as an aviation mogul before his various eccentricities surfaced. The author deserves credit for developing an unconventional conceit that seems quite limited on the surface, turning this into an unusual, entertaining commentary on the nature of celebrity and creating a dizzying hall-of-mirrors effect with its double portrait. (Sept. 17) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
For his debut novel, Carter devises a pseudobiography of Howard Hughes with letters, journal entries, and interviews by putative biographer and narrator Alton Reece, whose success with a Herman Melville biography and a Rolling Stone story on Madonna has made him a minor celebrity. Shown prior to his legendary seclusion as a womanizer and eccentric, Hughes is portrayed with humorous anecdotes that involve celebrities like Ava Gardner, Katharine Hepburn, and Jean Harlowe. Fiction and fact are mixed to reveal a man whose major dreams-e.g., creating a morally upright, capitalist state in Nevada-never reach fruition. During this unraveling of Hughes's complex personality, a glimpse of Reece's own personal life suggests that he has accepted what Hughes finally concludes-that "life is a straight cash business." Although this is a clever if terse account of the Hughes legend, neither Reece nor Hughes himself is developed adequately to elicit sympathy. Howard Hughes enthusiasts may love this work, but it is not required for most collections.-David A. Berona, Univ. of New Hampshire Lib., Durham Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
First-novelist Carter hits the scene with a madly inventive mock bio. Alton Reece, our narrator, is a rogue biographer. We sense this early, and eerily, in his quirky life of Howard Hughes. The glamorous Reece uses his Acknowledgements to snipe at Knopf, hint at an affair with a research assistant, and shrug off a flap involving the Hughes Archive ("Neither my assistants nor I did anything wrong and that's all there is to say"). He then vows in the Introduction to prove that Hughes, notwithstanding his tragically eccentric last years, "was still a great man." If the ensuing chapters prove anything, it's that Hughes was also a great aviator and adulterer. Oh, the feats! Part of the joke, of course, is that Carter, no less than Reece, exploits Hughes's bizarre life in order to snare readers. And it's enormously effective. Hughes pursues and punishes his women with equal folly-landing a plane on the fairway to picnic with a golfing Kate Hepburn, rigging a Mercedes to fall apart beneath a departing Ava Gardner. How much of this is true? The fun is in the guessing. Much of it, to be sure, is sham. Reece relies on fishy diaries, letters, and memos (drivers receive minute instructions from Hughes on how to transport his contracted actresses without jarring their breasts). A Quotations chapter has everyone from Cary Grant to Richard Nixon weighing in on Hughes. But the true power of this tale lurks within transcripts of the research interviews. Conducted by Reece, these interviews hold subtle clues to his worsening mental state; through them, we glimpse a writer hell-bent on hagiography, rash to identify with his subject (he sees in Hughes a fellow traveler on the sea of bad press). Carter'soriginality and, above all, deceptive moderation bring to mind Nathanael West's coolly surreal satires of American obsession. A darkly diverting, slightly cautionary tale about a barmy billionaire and his batty biographer. First serial to Tin House. Agent: Betsy Amster
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582343754
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 8/28/2003
  • Edition description: 1ST US
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.48 (w) x 8.26 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

A graduate of the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi, Steven Carter currently teaches at Georgetown College in Kentucky. I Was Howard Hughes is his first novel.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2003

    Best book ever

    AN AMAZING BOOK. DESERVES THE PULITZER PRIZE AT LEAST. MAYBE MORE.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2003

    Way Funny!

    This book is so enjoyable and informative. I was laughing out loud - I'm sure people were staring but I did not care. It's so off the wall and really good at the same time. I did not even know who Howard Hughes WAS until I read this book - now I feel like I know all about him - both facts and the made-up stuff!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2003

    A Hall Of Mirrors And Yes You're In There Too My Brother

    Not only is this book brilliantly humorous, it is also a deeply insightful look at the shadows we all pursue. How did Carter pull this off without tipping the scales to sophomoric humor? Obviously, the man has practised his craft. If you have any intelligent friends, buy them this book. God, I wiish I could have seen Kate Hepburn's reaction to Hughes's visit to her family. The scenes with Hughes's body double rank with the best humor anywhere. Carter deserves national recognition for this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2003

    Avid Reader Applauds Novel

    If there were more books written like this one, I would buy more books. Cleverly crafted; skillfully executed; exceptionally fresh: when may I expect a sequel???

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2003

    Brilliant first novel.

    Carter, a professor from Kentucky, writes a brilliant faux bio of Howard Hughes. It's remarkable, funny, searing, and a read like no other this season. The fictional biographer, Alton Reece, tumbles through the looking-glass and takes over the book by the middle act. And it's a tour de force. Carter is a new force to be watched.

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