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Harold Brodkey saw things in black and white. For Brodkey -- who died this January at the age of 65 -- the truth was naked and the utopian dreams of the American middle class were idiotic and stillborn. Praised for his striking language and vilified for his irascible nature and bleak outlook, Brodkey was a surprisingly major literary force for someone who produced such a small body of work -- four books by the time he learned he had AIDS at the age of sixty-two.
This Wild Darkness offers a glimpse into the conflicted soul of this complex intellectual. Part essay, part diary, much of the book appeared in The New Yorker, for which Brodkey had written for a number of years. It is not a typical AIDS chronicle. It is a scattershot summation of a life, filled with remembrances of his grim Midwestern childhood (his mother died when he was two, then his father allegedly sold him to a couple, and his adopted father sexually abused young Brodkey), his dabbling with homosexuality in the '60's and '70's (Brodkey claims that he was infected in 1977, the last time he had a homosexual encounter), his controversial literary career (vaguely recounted in passing and with many jibes at Manhattan's vicious and petty literary scene), and his 15-year relationship with his loyal and steadfast wife Ellen.
There is no real cohesion or progression of ideas; only the unvarnished ire of a misanthrope, someone sick of absolutely everybody binds the book together. Yet when Brodkey writes about his impending death, he is remarkably lucid and poetic. "Death itself is soft, softly lit, vastly dark. The self becomes taut with metamorphosis and seems to give off some light and to have a not-quite-great-enough fearlessness toward the immensity of the end of the individuality, toward one's absorption into the dance of particles and inaudibility." Brodkey's chronicle of his death is a fitting reflection of his life -- difficult, occasionally wickedly funny and filled with beautifully rendered prose. -- Salon