March 24, 2011
I had forgotten all about Roiphe until this week, when I read a review of her book—a memoir, of course. She dismisses her first husband as someone who “now writes non-fiction.” Ouch. But that’s not all. Her husband turns out to be a great man, a friend of mine, a drunk, a fortune hunter, a braggart, a phony who seduced her with his perfect upper-class English accent, although Jack Richardson was born in Queens, Noo Yawk. The more she trashes him, the more I love him.
Let’s take it from the top:
Roiphe is culture-hungry and reading my bible, Tender is the Night. She meets Richardson at age 12, and they dance the Charleston together. She’s told by an English prof not to give up the day job in favor of writing. Crushed but determined, she decides to be “a muse to a man of great talent.” In reality she’s fixated on fame and glory, and then my buddy Jack comes back into her life. She revels in musehood, especially when JR tells her that “If I am not as famous as Keats by the age of 26, I will kill myself.” She writes, “He wanted to be a giant among men.”
Jack was a giant, all right: a giant at Elaine’s, our watering hole, a giant among competitive, hard-drinking writers who under the influence would expound Demosthenian speeches, Periclean in scope, about absolutely nothing. I adored him, and it’s safe to say he loved me, too. Roiphe writes how she waited for him to come home, how she typed his manuscripts, and how he disappeared for days during their Paris honeymoon looking for women. “My nerves are shot,” he told her. “I need the comfort of prostitutes.” What a cad! What a bounder!
Nurturing a fragile male artist led to an older, bitter Roiphe. But accepting to live off someone else’s written words, as she admits, is a youthful mistake. No big deal. She writes eloquently about my buddy Jack “coming to life, like Dracula,” surviving on Scotch, Bourbon, and German philosophy—“I am a logical positivist” was his opening line—and how he woke up “trembling and bloodshot.” Who hasn’t? Cool it, Roiphe. Just think what Hadley, Pauline, Zelda, and Norris could say about their men and their Jack-like shenanigans.