Farber, Thomas (David) 1944-
FARBER, Thomas (David) 1944-
PERSONAL: Born April 26, 1944, in Boston, MA; son of Sidney (a professor and cancer researcher) and Norma (an opera singer, poet, novelist, and children's book writer; maiden name, Holzman) Farber. Education: Harvard University, B.A., 1965. Hobbies and other interests: Surfing, diving.
ADDRESSES: Home—1827 Virginia St., Berkeley, CA 94703. Office—Box #2, 1678 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, CA 94709. Agent—Ellen Levine, 370 Lexington Ave., Suite 906, New York, NY 10017. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer. Commentator for National Public Radio; University of Hawaii, visiting distinguished writer; University of California, Berkeley, Rockefeller Foundation resident scholar at Bellagio; currently visiting senior lecturer.
AWARDS, HONORS: Guggenheim fellow; National Endowment for the Arts fellow; Fulbright scholar for Pacific Islands Studies; Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize.
Tales for the Son of My Unborn Child, Dutton (New York, NY), 1971.
(With Nacio Brown) Rag Theatre, Great Star Press (Berkeley CA), 1975.
Who Wrote the Book of Love?, Norton (New York, NY), 1977.
Whatever the Cost, Creative Arts Books (Berkeley, CA), 1979.
Hazards to the Human Heart, Dutton (New York, NY), 1980.
The Material Plane, Dutton (New York, NY), 1980.
Too Soon to Tell, Ten Mile River Press (Fort Bragg, CA), 1981.
Curves of Pursuit, Putnam (New York, NY), 1984.
Compared to What?: On Writing and the Writer's Life, Norton (New York, NY), 1988.
On Water, Okeanos (Oakland, CA), 1991.
Learning to Love It: Seven Stories and a Novella, Capra Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1993.
The Price of the Ride, Creative Arts Book (Berkeley, CA), 1996.
(Author of introduction) Wayne Levin, Through a Liquid Mirror: Photographs, Editions Limited (Honolulu, HI), 1997.
Compressions: A Second Helping, Serendipity Books (Berkeley, CA), 1998.
The Face of the Deep, Mercury House (San Francisco, CA), 1998.
A Lover's Question: Selected Stories, Creative Arts Books (Berkeley, CA), 2000.
The Beholder: A Novel, Metropolitan Books (New York, NY), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: For over a quarter century, Thomas Farber has meditated on life and love, publishing short and long fiction and creative nonfiction written in economical yet poetic prose. Although Farber was born and raised in Boston and graduated from Harvard University, shortly after earning his degree he relocated to California, where he has retained a residence ever since. "I came out to California in the summer of 1964," he once told a San Diego Reader reporter. "And with great ambivalence I've ended up for many years, staying in California and making my home in Northern California, in particular, Berkeley." After publishing several collections of essays and stories during the 1970s and 1980s, Farber made his debut as a novelist with Curves of Pursuit, a novel that is "venturesome to an almost foolhardy degree," to quote Anatole Broyard in the New York Times. Farber stretches the bounds of narrative as he portrays the relationships among two unnamed brothers and the narrator's wife, using the physics of motion, represented by the flight of a football pass. According to Houston Chronicle reviewer Emily Vincent, "Each chapter is a neatly shaped, pithy anecdote—almost a parable—about fraternal love and exasperation, childhood, the joys of sex and the pitfalls of marriage.… Separate and unique, they join seamlessly in a beautifully textured fabric." Describing the novel as "worrying, but not depressing," Broyard continued, "It's one of those new novels whose structure appeals not only to your sense of order, but to your sense of humor.… Some of his chapters are head fakes, some are probes, some run interference for others." "When it works," Broyard concluded, "when you make the catch, it's a beautiful feeling of everything coming together in space and time."
By the 1970s, Farber had discovered Hawaii, and he has spent much time there, though always keeping his home in Berkeley. Several of his books express and expand on the allure water has for Farber: On Water, a collection of "lyrical, broadly cast essays," to quote a Publishers Weekly reviewer, Through a Liquid Mirror, the literary foreword to photographs by Wayne Levin, and The Face of the Deep, a reflection on the mythology and literature of Oceania. "Part of the reason I became a writer was to say, 'This is what happened, this is what otherwise would be missed, unmentioned,'" Farber explains in The Face of the Deep. He discusses visiting, surfing, and diving in the Pacific, and reflects on the literature of the indigenous writers as well as the Western colonizers. Minal Hajratwala pointed to the chapter titled "The Literary Pacific" for special praise, calling it an "excellent survey of indigenous literature in the island nations of the Pacific" in her San Jose Mercury News review. Not only does Farber say "what happened," but according to a number of critics, he says it with style. For example, a Kirkus Reviews contributor likened the chapters to "epigrams—witty; paradoxical riffs" written in "evocative and keen" prose and laced with "amusing asides." In her Boston Globe review, Amanda Heller remarked, "There is nothing earthbound about his prose, which spreads a descriptive joie de vivre over all its touches," and "at its best, The Face of the Deep, dropping in and cutting back in time, reads rather like the spiraling of a wave, where the surfer/reader planes on a rail, or line of prose," concluded Nation reviewer Mindy Pennybacker.
Farber's 2002 title, The Beholder, returns to questions of love and sex. In this novel a married twenty-something female art historian has an affair with a single, middle-aged male writer. Although Booklist contributor Carol Haggas decided that Farber's "terse, minimalist prose … mordantly conveys the raw, emotive tension" in the situation, several reviewers expressed reservations about Farber's style. These include a contributor to Kirkus Reviews, who found the characters unsympathetic and the portrayal of sexual relations fraught with "missteps and affectations." Jonathan Shipley, reviewing the novel for Book Reporter, found it "in parts … heated and visual, using the sparest of words and the shortest of sentences. At times it's like a poem, sharp and exact, meanings dripping from the words." Despite believing this elliptical style loses effectiveness over time, Shipley dubbed the novel as a whole a "scintillating examination of love and art, passions and the human form."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Farber, Thomas, The Face of the Deep, Mercury House (San Francisco, CA), 1998.
Best Sellers, March, 1984, review of Curves of Pursuit, p. 436.
Booklist, October 15, 1988, review of Compared to What?: On Writing and the Writer's Life, p. 358; August, 2002, Carol Haggas, review of The Beholder, p. 1918.
Boston Globe, September 29, 1998, Amanda Heller, review of The Face of the Deep.
Houston Chronicle, February 12, 1984, Emily Vincent, "Fraternal Love in the Arc of a Pass," review of Curves of Pursuit.
Hungry Mind Review, winter, 1994, review of On Water, p. 8.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1983, review of Curves of Pursuit, p. 1138; August 15, 1988, review of Compared to What?, p. 1209; May 26, 1998, review of The Face of the Deep; June 1, 1998, review of The Face of the Deep, pp. 789-790; May 15, 2002, review of The Beholder, p. 683.
Kliatt Paperback Book Guide, fall, 1985, review of Curves of Pursuit, p. 6.
Library Journal, November 15, 1983, review of Curves of Pursuit, p. 2171; July, 1994, Tim Markus, review of On Water, p. 121; June 15, 2002, Marc Kloszewski, review of The Beholder, p. 93.
Los Angeles Times, January 25, 1984, Richard Eder, review of Curves of Pursuit, p. 6; September 19, 1993, review of Learning to Love It: Seven Stories and a Novella, p. 11; July 17, 1994, review of On Water, p. 3; August 4, 2002, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of The Beholder, p. R-15.
Nation, September 7, 1998, Mindy Pennybacker, review of The Face of the Deep, pp. 38-41.
New York Times, January 14, 1984, Anatole Broyard, review of Curves of Pursuit, p. 14.
New York Times Book Review, January 8, 1984, Richard Elman, review of Curves of Pursuit, p. 18; October 23, 1988, Monroe Engel, review of Compared to What?, p. 39; November 28, 1993, David Galef, review of Learning to Love It, p. 26.
Publishers Weekly, November 18, 1983, review of Curves of Pursuit, p. 60; May 3, 1985, review of Curves of Pursuit, p. 72; April 18, 1994, review of On Water, p. 56; July 13, 1998, review of The Face of the Deep, p. 71; July 8, 2002, review of The Beholder, p. 29.
San Diego Reader, August 6, 1998, review of The Face of the Deep.
San Jose Mercury News, September 20, 1998, Minal Hajratwala, review of The Face of the Deep.
Sewanee Review, July, 1990, review of Compared to What?, p. 515.
Studies in Short Fiction, spring, 1995, Leigh Block, review of Learning to Love It, pp. 247-248.
West Coast Review of Books, July, 1984, review of Curves of Pursuit, p. 32; Volume 14, number 4, 1989, review of Compared to What?, p. 48.
Book Reporter Web site, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (May 17, 2003), Jonathan Shipley, review of The Beholder.
Thomas Farber Web site, http://www.thomasfarber.org/ (May 19, 2003).*