Although he aspired to Princeton, Irwin Gilbert Shamforoff (aka Shaw) had to settle for local Brooklyn College, where he seems to have enjoyed football more than his studies. From his mid-20s, however, Shaw (1913-1984) was a highly regarded New Yorker short story writer (``The Girls in Their Summer Dresses'') and left-wing playwright ( Bury the Dead ), and later became a successful Hollywood script writer and novelist ( The Young Lions ; Rich Man, Poor Man ). This sympathetic, objective biography, by a Vanity Fair contributing editor, convincingly shows how Shaw's career, character and fiction, influenced more by Hemingway's lifestyle than by his writing, were marked by incongruities. Far from abating with age, his romantic and alcoholic appetites overwhelmed him. Years of high living in Europe, surrounded by adoring friends, softened his self-judgment, and he took to writing ``fluffy essays for swells.'' The New Yorker dropped him, and ``serious'' critics panned his novels. Shnayerson capably contrasts Shaw's inclinations and personality with his subject matter and literary output, and is especially astute at explaining the complications of being a commercially successful midcentury American writer. Photos not seen by PW. (Aug.)
Shnayerson recounts in detail Shaw's impoverished beginnings in Brooklyn; his precocious writing talent and early success; his prodigious output and diminishing critical acclaim as marriage, love affairs, fame, wealth, and divorce claim his attentions; and his generosity of spirit, growing alcoholism, and eventual decline. Yet all the detail is on the outside; little is revealed of Shaw's inner life. There are no passages from journals and few--not particularly revealing--quotes from letters; deep probing of character or motivation is lacking. And though Shnayerson asserts that Shaw's work has lasting value, critical evaluation is largely confined to plot summaries, quotations from reviews, and generalities about Shaw's lyrical short stories or narrative gifts. Shnayerson may see Shaw's life as ``an ethical allegory, a deep and implacable struggle between art and money in mid-twentieth-century America,'' but the work he has written to prove it is flat and unconvincing.-- Richard Kuczkowski, Dominican Coll., Blauvelt, N.Y.
A reconstruction of Shaw's life from his days as a young playwright and novelist up to his death in 1984. Despite a prevailing pedestrian tone and lapses into gossip column journals, a chilling and, at times, insightful portrait of the man and his social milieu emerges forcefully. Acidic paper. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)