Elizabeth Hardwick A heartbreaking, eloquent memoir by the son of the heartbreaking, eloquent poet, James Dickey.
The New York Times Book Review Angry, affectionate...both gut-wrenching and hypnotic. A father-son conflict worthy of the pen of Sophocles.
Joseph P. Kahn
The Boston Globe As unsentimental a father-son memoir as one can imagine. James Dickey may have died a broken man, but he was given a tremendous opportunity to get at least one thing right. By the evidence of this book, he succeeded, too.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution An exquisite balance of blistering candor and healing grace....Writing so wonderful that it simply transcends the limits of the genre.
An angry, affectionate memoir both gut-wrenching and hypnotic.
New York Times Book Review
Summer of Deliverance is full of pain and rue, and they make it a powerful piece of work, but that final reconciliation is the image it's hard to forget. Globe and Mail
What becomes a genius
most? Not much, on the evidence of Christopher
Dickey's trenchant, beautifully written memoir of
his father, poet and novelist James Dickey.
Dickey, who died last year in South Carolina at
the age of 73, was the bestselling author of
Deliverance and winner of the National Book
Award for poetry in 1966, a hard-drinking,
hard-living, womanizing wild man with only the
most tenuous grasp on reality and "a burning
desire for consequence," according to his son.
"My father was a great poet, a famous novelist, a
powerful intellect, and a son of a bitch I hated,"
Christopher Dickey writes, "and that last fact was
just a part of me. It was a cold knot of anger that
I lived with, and that helped drive me to do the
things I wanted and needed to do in my own life.
I became a foreign correspondent" Dickey fils
is currently Paris bureau chief for Newsweek
"as far from him as I could be." It's a rare child
writing about a celebrity parent who realizes that
every drunken obsession, every heartless
betrayal, every lie and ghastly act was somehow
necessary, even imperative, to the lives of both
James Dickey grew up in Atlanta under the eye
of a German grandmother who terrified him with
tales of Struwwelpeter ("The scissors man always
comes/To little boys who suck their thumbs") and
whose response to any event, large or small, was
a brisk, "Es muss sein. Es muss sein" ("It must
be. It must be").
Summer of Deliverance is not
his son's attempt to "understand" James Dickey,
but the account of that attempt more
specifically, of the successful effort father and
son finally made in the two years before Dickey's
death to come to terms with one another after a
lifetime of disappointment and a 20-year
"There was no way to get at him without filtering
his experiences through my own," says
Christopher early on, "my memories of his
parents, my adolescence, my wars, my middle
age ... The more I sifted through his life and
mine, the more I tried to bring my father to
myself, the more I realized that what I was
looking for lay somewhere between truth and
imagination." Imagination was the grease that
drove the wheel through all the Dickeys' lives
the "man-god-father," the long-suffering mother,
the bewildered kids and worshipful students and
drug-addicted lovers who trailed in the dust of
Dickey's star: "In life, my father believed he'd
thrown in his lot with poets, so nothing else had
to matter ... But the poem was the poem, I
thought, and what we lived was what we lived.
We ought to be able to keep that straight."
Vain hope. "No true artist will tolerate for one
minute the world as it is," James Dickey told his
son, quoting another literary wild man, Friedrich
Nietzsche. It is the measure of Christopher
Dickey's own imagination that he neither excuses
nor condemns the Great Man, content with a
remorselessly detailed, cold-eyed reminiscence
that mysteriously emerges you can't imagine
how as a deeply loving portrait and a kind of
benediction "only the truth as it is," says
Dickey. "As it must be."
Writing so wonderful that it simply transcends the limits of the genre.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
[Dickey's] memories of his father's metamorphosis from respected regional poet to good-ol-boy literary celebrity to squalid alcoholic are unflinching. But the child's anger gives way to the adult's forgiveness. Ultimatelythis is a painful homage to 'Big Jim' Dickey and his squandered talent.
When his father, James Dickey, the poet and novelist, became ill in 1996, the author went to take care of him, not out of any great love, but rather from a sense of duty. On the very first page of this beautifully written dual-biography of father and son, Dickey,
Newsweek's Paris bureau chief and author of Innocent Blood, refers to his father as the man who "killed my mother." Fame and alcohol were the twin demons of the Dickey household and Christopher traces their devastating effects during his father's slow evolution from a struggling writer to a celebrity poet and author of the novel Deliverance. His poetry led Dickey around the country to universities where he played the poet and seduced the students all in the face of his increasingly alcoholic wife. But Christopher feels that the year when Deliverance was made into a movie, in the early '70s, marked the real turning point when many things were "exploited," including his father's integrity. What followed was a disaster of celebrity, as Dickey began "talking his poems, his books, his big projects into existence, when there was little or nothing on the page." Shortly after, Jim Dickey's wife died and he married a much younger though equally alcoholic woman. Dickey fils doesn't spare himself as when he recounts trying to sleep with his father's mistress and the destruction of his first marriage. But there is resurrection at the end: a solid second marriage, his rescue of his father and his young half-sister from their hellish life, and the reconciliation a few months before his father's death in January 1997. "Poetry is a matter of luck," Dickey recalls his father saying. "You can't teach it. You can point it out when it occurs." This unflinching and deeply affecting memoir is one of those places where real poetry occurs.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A gifted poet, novelist, and savant, James Dickey (1923-97) revealed the conflicts, tensions, and wonderful beauty of the South he so loved. While he received numerous prestigious literary awards and an appointment as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress in 1966, his true fame arrived with the publication of his masterpiece,
Deliverance, in 1976. This apex in his career was soon followed by a spiraling decline into unrelenting alcoholism and frightening conflicts with his family. Here Dickey's son, a journalist and author ( Innocent Blood), provides insights into his father's demons and simultaneously explores how his father's literary legacy revealed the psyche of the conflicted South. His account of his father's submission to fame and incessant drinking moves from resentment, fear, loathing, and confusion to periodic respect and underlying love. Richard K. Burns, Editor, Hatboro, PA
Mr. Dickey has done a remarkable job of picking his way through a minefield of emotions, knitting together a dangerous present and a painful past. . .sharply etched.
The New York Times
An angry, affectionate memoir both gut-wrenching and hypnotic.
New York Times Book Review
[A]. . . loving, ruthless portrait. . . .Dickey. . .writes with a fine complexity, acquired . . .by experience with a self-absorbed father, a mother who was herself alcoholic and a family drama that descended. . .to the gothically dysfunctional.
As unsentimental a father-son memoir as one can imagine. James Dickey may have died a broken man, but he was given a tremendous opportunity to get at least one thing right. By the evidence of this book, he succeeded, too.
The Boston Globe
This moving memoir by the famous poet's son pulls no punches: James Dickey was a hard-drinking, prevaricating braggart whose bad behavior destroyed his family. Even so, to Christopher Dickey he was 'father-poet-god' whom he loved in spite of his anger and bitterness. There was a reconciliation of sorts between Dickey and his son, Christopher in the year or so prior to his death in January 1997. Christopher had limited contact with his father for nearly 20 years following the death of his mother in 1976. Dickey had a history of drunken loutishness and philandering; his son believes it was that and a mean-spirited neglect that drove his mother to drink herself to death. Two months after her funeral, Dickey married a student younger than Christopher. "I read about it in
People," writes the son. By all accounts, it was a violent marriage that included batterings and stabbings of Dickey by his young, drug-addicted wife. Things started to unravel for the family, according to Christopher, with the widespread success of Deliverance and the film made from the novel. The younger Dickey was a stand-in during the filming and got a close-up view of his father's dealings with director John Boorman and actors Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight. Dickey would leave the set in a snit: 'Boorman had said he was interfering too much. Said the actors were upset by his presence.' He would return, of course, and play a memorable part as the sheriff. But for the younger Dickey, his father's embarrassing, obnoxious behavior was only outdone by his 'righteous fury' at his father for 'settling for less for artistic compromises' in the making of the film. Dickey's later years saw himalternate between the celebrated, half-mad poet he had been and the sick, pathetic drunkard he became. An amazing portrait of a man who was a destructive force with a larger-than-life ego and who was also a man of intense passion, high intellect, and a delicate, artistic sensitivity.