Gold, Herbert 1924-
GOLD, Herbert 1924-
PERSONAL: Born March 9, 1924, in Cleveland, OH; son of Samuel S. and Frieda (Frankel) Gold; married Edith Zubrin, April, 1948 (divorced, 1956); married Melissa Dilworth, January, 1968 (divorced, 1975); children: (first marriage) Ann, Judith; (second marriage) Nina, Ari, Ethan. Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1946, M.A., 1948; Sorbonne, University of Paris, licence-es-lettres, 1951.
ADDRESSES: Home—1051-A Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133-4205.
CAREER: Full-time writer. Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University), Cleveland, OH, lecturer in philosophy and literature, 1951-53; Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, member of English department faculty, 1954-56. University of California—Davis, regents professor, 1973. Visiting professor, Cornell University, 1958, University of California—Berkeley, 1963 and 1968, Harvard University, 1964, Stanford University, 1967, and University of California—Davis, 1974-79 and 1985. McGuffey Lecturer in English, Ohio University, 1971. Military service: U.S. Army Intelligence, 1943-46.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright fellow at Sorbonne, University of Paris, 1950; Inter-American Cultural Relations grant to Haiti, 1954; Hudson Review fellow, 1956; Guggenheim fellow, 1957; Ohioana Book Award, 1957, for The Man Who Was Not With-It; National Institute of Arts and Letters grant in literature, 1958; Longview Foundation Award, 1959; Ford Foundation theatre fellow, 1960; California Literature Medal Award, 1968, for Fathers: A Novel in the Form of a Memoir; Commonwealth Club Award for best novel, 1982, for Family: A Novel in the Form of a Memoir; L.H.D., Baruch College of the City University of New York, 1988; Sherwood Anderson Prize for fiction, 1989.
Birth of a Hero, Viking (New York, NY), 1951.
The Prospect before Us, World Publishing (New York, NY), 1954, published as Room Clerk, New American Library (New York, NY), 1955.
The Man Who Was Not With-It, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1956, published as The Wild Life, Permabooks (New York, NY), 1957, with new introduction by author, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), 1987.
The Optimist, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1959.
Therefore Be Bold, Dial (New York, NY), 1960.
Salt, Dial (New York, NY), 1963.
Fathers: A Novel in the Form of a Memoir, Random House (New York, NY), 1967, reprinted as Fathers, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1991.
The Great American Jackpot, Random House (New York, NY), 1969.
Biafra Goodbye, Two Windows Press (San Francisco, CA), 1970.
My Last Two Thousand Years, Random House (New York, NY), 1972.
Swiftie the Magician, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1974.
Waiting for Cordelia, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1977.
Slave Trade, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1979.
He/She, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1980.
Family: A Novel in the Form of a Memoir, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1981, reprinted as Family, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1991.
True Love, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1982.
Mister White Eyes, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1984.
A Girl of Forty, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1986.
Dreaming, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1988.
She Took My Arm As If She Loved Me, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Daughter Mine, Thomas Dunne (New York, NY), 2000.
(With R. V. Cassill and James B. Hall) 15x3, New Directions (New York, NY), 1957.
Love & Like, Dial (New York, NY), 1960.
The Magic Will: Stories and Essays of a Decade, Random House (New York, NY), 1971, 2nd edition, Transaction Publishers (New Brunswick, NJ), 2002.
Stories of Misbegotten Love (bound with Angel on My Shoulder and Other Stories by Don Asher), Capra (Santa Barbara, CA), 1985.
Lovers & Cohorts: Twenty-seven Stories, Donald I. Fine (New York, NY), 1986.
The Age of Happy Problems, Dial (New York, NY), 1962, published with a new preface by the author, Transaction Publishers (New Brunswick, NJ), 2002.
A Walk on the West Side: California on the Brink, Arbor House, (New York, NY) 1981.
Travels in San Francisco (memoirs), Arcade (New York, NY), 1990.
Best Nightmare on Earth: A Life in Haiti, introduction by Jan Morris, Prentice Hall (New York, NY), 1991, published as Haiti: Best Nightmare on Earth, with a new afterword by the author, Transaction Publishers (New Brunswick, NJ), 2000.
Bohemia: Where Art, Angst, Love, and Strong Coffee Meet, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1993, published as Bohemia: Digging the Roots of Cool, Touchstone Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Fiction of the Fifties: A Decade of American Writing, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1959.
(With David L. Stevenson) Stories of Modern America, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1961.
First Person Singular: Essays for the Sixties, Dial (New York, NY), 1963.
The Young Prince and the Magic Cone, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1973.
Contributor to The Living Novel, edited by Granville Hicks, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1957; Pardon Me, Sir, but Is My Eye Hurting Your Elbow?, edited by Bob Booker and George Foster, Geis, 1968; and San Francisco, revised edition, edited by Herb Caen, Abrams (New York, NY), 1993. Also contributor to O. Henry Prize Stories, 1954. Contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic, Playboy, New York Times Book Review, Hudson Review, Harper's, Esquire, and Partisan Review.
ADAPTATIONS: Salt was adapted for television by Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and broadcast as Threesome, 1986.
SIDELIGHTS: Herbert Gold is known as a successful chronicler of life in modern America. His fiction and nonfiction are both marked by clearly evoked settings, well-drawn characters, and insightful presentations of personal relationships. Commenting on the realism of Gold's fiction, Robert G. Kaiser of the Washington Post Book World suggested that the author's books should be stored in a time capsule so that our descendants can see clearly how people of our time actually lived. Kaiser stated that Gold "is a gifted reporter, a writer whose characters' dilemmas are rooted in a precise cultural moment that [he] evokes supremely well." While some of Gold's work is set in his native midwest, much of his fiction takes place in California, where he has made his home for many years. He knows the state well, and "he manages as few do to get it down on paper," reported Bruce Cook in the Detroit News. Gold "is forever uncovering the latest totems and odd social byways of the Pacific shore," Peter Andrews noted in New York Times Book Review, "and writing about them with grace and humor."
In addition to his skill at evoking a California setting, Gold shows uncommon skill at portraying "the agonizing dynamics of contemporary male-female relationships," Landon asserted. The critic felt this was evident in the author's ongoing concern with the "breakdown of marriage as an American institution." In Slave Trade, for example, the detective Sid Kasdan is hired by an international group that supplies young Haitian boys to homosexual men in America and Europe. At first he works for the group, escorting the boys from Haiti to their buyers. But when he is to deliver a boy to a sadistic veterinarian with murderous plans, Kasdan balks. He frees the boy and takes him back to Haiti. Throughout his association with the slavers, Kasdan has been so obsessed with his ex-wife that he is insulated from the suffering around him. His own sorrow blinds him to the sorrow of others. But when he returns the boy to Haiti he finds that his former wife now works for the slavers. They kill the boy and at novel's end, Kasdan is negotiating with them for his own life. As Landon explained, Kasdan has been "a slave to the memory of his former wife [and] essentially a man paralyzed by divorce."
In He/She, Gold tells the story of an unnamed couple ("he" and "she") in the midst of a divorce. "She wants a life of 'unboredom,'" Anatole Broyard explained in the New York Times, "and her nameless husband wants their marriage to be 'a festival.'" His love for her is not the kind of love she needs. She is bored with him, but he doesn't know what the problem is. When she divorces him and lives with another man, he is heartbroken. She explains to him, Broyard wrote, "that everybody's heart is broken." But after a time they become lovers. "The book is about the tenacity of relationships," Larry McMurtry observed in the New York Times Book Review, "as expressed in the breakup of one marriage; the impersonal nature of the tenacity is underscored by the use of pronouns instead of names." Admitting that the premise of the novel is "a slender hinge on which to hang a narrative," Cyra McFadden of the Chicago Tribune Book World nonetheless found that "Gold makes of this marriage, and what becomes of it, a book that is suspenseful, touching, and sometimes darkly funny."
Throughout his work Gold shows an understanding and sympathy for his characters and their problems. He expresses in The Man Who Was Not With-It "a deep compassion for human suffering and bewilderment," wrote W. L. Greesham in the New York Times Book Review. In Lovers & Cohorts, also in the New York Times Book Review, Hilma Wolitzer observed that Gold explores "very deftly" the "pain of love's dissolution" as well as the "particular agonies of the husband in a failed marriage." Erica Abeel, reviewing A Girl of Forty in the Times, noted that Gold is "especially astute about the prevarications of men when confronted with a loveable woman." But Gold's wisdom is not reserved solely for the agonies of men and marriage. Discussing Fathers: A Novel in the Form of a Memoir, Theodore Solotaroff in Book Week cited the strongest element in the novel as "Gold's feeling for his father." The author argues for perseverance in the face of life's hardships. As Ihab Hassan stated in Radical Innocence: Studies in the Contemporary American Novel, "The need to bounce with life, to take risks with its incompleteness, to celebrate the 'tin and hope' of human existence, knowing all the while that reality may be its own end . . . or, less frequently, that ambition contains its own death . . . these are the primary concerns of Herbert Gold."
These themes are explored by Gold in a variety of styles and settings and through a wide assortment of characters. The Prospect before Us, for example, concerns an old hotel for the destitute whose manager comes under fire for renting a room to a black woman. In The Man Who Was Not With-It, Gold writes of a carnival worker who is a drug addict. Therefore Be Bold tells the story of a young couple in 1950s Cleveland whose romance is doomed by her father's resistance. In Fathers, Gold draws upon his own family for inspiration, contrasting his father's generation of Jewish immigrants with his own generation. These diverse and sometimes unsavory characters come alive because Gold is particularly adept at accurately capturing their speech patterns, whatever their social backgrounds may be. "He has a sensitivity for the nuances of speech," Harry T. Moore observed in his Contemporary American Novelists, "and can frequently catch the precise accent, rhythms, and tone of dialogue and dialect." In The Man Who Was Not With-It, for example, Gold uses carnival jargon to tell his story. "He shows its tricks of insincerity, an important part of the story," Moore wrote, "but also displays its force in expressing the deepest feelings of the people who speak it." Discussing The Prospect before Us in Literary Horizons: A Quarter Century of American Fiction, Granville Hicks praised Gold's "mastery of a colloquial style. The dialogue is so perfect that it seems artless. . . . The effect is to immerse the reader in the garish world of [hotel manager] Harry Bowers."
A constant factor in all of Gold's work is "his love of wordplay," George Jensen wrote in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Gold's wordplay, Jensen continued, "has been cited as his greatest accomplishment as a fiction writer and his greatest defect." This trait is a weakness, Jensen explained, because it "is too unusual and too present to ignore; the fate of his novels rests with the acceptance or rejection of his style." Hicks acknowledged Gold's Joycean style, seeing it as a means of attaining "greater freedom and freshness in the use of words, not for the sake of shocking the reader but in order to rouse him out of lethargy in order to compel him to see more clearly and feel more strongly."
In novels where the language of his characters is colorful, Gold's style seems to be most successful. David J. Gordon of Yale Review wrote that "Gold's virtues are more solidly present [in Fathers] than in his earlier novels. One reason may be that the constantly colorful idiom he seems to require is, in part, justified dramatically by the Yiddish-English speech of the parents. Another reason may be that his subject touches a deeper layer of feeling." In like terms, The Man Who Was Not With-It, with its carnival slang, gives Gold the opportunity to "handle colorful idiom," wrote Moore, who added, "It crackles. But the language isn't flashed just for its own sake. . . . Gold's tendency toward the bizarre in style exactly matches the subject matter in this book." Nicholas Delbanco also remarked on Gold's way with speech, noting in a review of Dreaming for the New York Times Book Review that "Gold's ear is excellent."
Elements of Gold's life also appear in several of his books—his divorce, childhood in Cleveland, and work as a hotel manager, for example—but Gold deals directly with his life only in three novels: Fathers, My Last Two Thousand Years, and Family: A Novel in the Form of a Memoir. The first of these focuses on Gold's relationship with his father and contrasts his father's generation, and the many problems they overcame, with Gold's own generation, that had far fewer difficulties in life. My Last Two Thousand Years is an "autobiography-with-a-theme," as William Abrahams described it in the Saturday Review of Education. In it, Gold recounts his life with special emphasis on those moments of peak importance. Family concentrates on the women of the Gold family, as Fathers deals with the men.
Fathers traces the life of Gold's father, Samuel, from Czarist Russia to Cleveland, where he owned a grocery store for many years. The tension in the story arises from the conflict between the father, "a man of fact and commercial action, of will and property," as Robert Garis described him in the Hudson Review, and the son, whose values are nearly the opposite of his father's. Despite their differences, Gold is instructed by his father on how to enter into the adult world. Gold's own life finally begins to reflect his father's when it is disrupted by divorce. At that time, his father understands and helps him to overcome the pain. "Gold begins to learn," Jensen stated, "how to survive in an unstable world."
My Last Two Thousand Years is an exploration of Jewish history, with Gold relating the history of his people to his personal history, attempting to find his rightful place in the world. "The interests of My Last Two Thousand Years," Alvin H. Rosenfeld wrote in Midstream, "are two-fold: as a critique of the literary life and with it most of the values of cultural Modernism, and as a discovery of a more central identity through an awakening to history." Thomas R. Edwards of the New York Times Book Review believed the autobiographical novel to be obsessed with "incidents that carry the theme of tribal discovery" rather than with the "necessary and interesting irrelevancies of a life." He does, however, find Gold's "account of his youth and early manhood . . . often quite wonderfully funny and poignant" and concluded that "Gold makes sense of his life."
As Fathers examines the men in Gold's family, Family looks at the women. It was titled Family, Gold explained to Cook, because "you can't call a book Mothers these days without being misunderstood." The novel, although essentially unstructured, revolves around Gold's mother, "as blazingly erratic and as trivial as a child's sparkler," Penelope Mesic noted in the Chicago Tribune Book World. Jerome Charyn pointed to Gold's mother as "the central force of the novel." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Charyn reflected that Family "exists almost as pure song. . . . It is an homage to the loving and bullying women around [Gold]." When the novel's fact and fiction blend well, Mesic noted, they "produce a literary alloy with the strength of truth and lightness of fiction." Cook judged Fathers, My Last Two Thousand Years, and Family—all of which combine autobiography and fiction—as Gold's "three best novels."
In the 1980s, Gold began writing personal, nonfictional works about his travels throughout the world. A Walk on the West Side: California on the Brink, Travels in San Francisco, Best Nightmare on Earth: A Life in Haiti, and Bohemia: Where Art, Angst, Love and Strong Coffee Meet are autobiographical works about history and culture. In Best Nightmare on Earth, Gold's history of Haiti is inextricably linked with the personal experiences he had as a student in the early 1950s. Alex Raskin, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, described that book as "travel writing of a high order, paralleling the author's own vulnerability with that of the land." Similarly, Gold's history of Bohemia, according to Brooke Allen in the New York Times Book Review, "is a very personal tour through late 20th century bohemia." However, even the author's nonfiction is rendered in a fictional style, as the New York Times Book Review's Mark Danner observed in his review of Best Nightmare on Earth: "Mr. Gold writes like the novelist he is, roughing in scenes and characters with a few economical strokes."
Gold gave readers another novel with She Took My Arm As If She Loved Me, a hard-boiled detective novel that touched on his usual subjects of love lost and advancing age. His protagonist is Dan Kasdan, a philosophy teacher who has turned instead to working as a private investigator. Still in love with the woman he divorced many years ago, Dan decides to try to win her back. His attempts to do so involve him with Karim, a drug dealer and pornographer. The plot is "relatively weak," found Nancy Pearl in Booklist, yet it fades in importance next to "Gold's terrific ear for dialogue, his dead-on insights into the angst of growing up and growing old," and his artistry at evoking life in San Francisco. A Publishers Weekly writer was more concerned with the weak plot, stating that it weighed down the book despite the "small gems of insight, humor and local color" sprinkled throughout.
Judged more favorably by many critics was Gold's novel Daughter Mine, published in 2000. It is "freewheeling in scope and unafraid of pathos," advised a Publishers Weekly writer. The plot concerns Dan Shaper, a sloppy, middle-aged bachelor who works as a courtroom translator. His life is shaken up when an attractive nineteen-year-old named Amanda arrives at his door, with the news that she is his daughter, the result of a brief tryst many years before. Amanda is now working in a bordello that passes itself off as a medical clinic, and her life is intertwined with that of D'Wayne, her boyfriend and pimp. LosAngeles Times critic Michael Harris also found the plot thin, but added that Gold renders his characters "with enormous gusto; they're so charming and raffish." Roger Harris, a contributor to the Star-Ledger added: "His specialty is humor, the kind that comes from interaction of characters. In this one, he displays fine technique not only with a clash between generations but between the hip and the square. It is all done very well and with great sympathy for everyone, including the grifters and semi-outlaws of San Francisco."
In McFadden's estimation, Gold's strengths as a fiction writer include "his talent for making high drama of ordinary events, ordinary experience." Bette Pesetsky, writing in the New York Times Book Review, cited his gifts as a "natural storyteller," including a "rhythmic dialogue" and a "voice that sustains." Kenneth Turan of the Washington Post Book World listed Gold's "ability as an observer of the social scene, his eye for cultural detail and nuance" as one of his strengths. Gold's "writing style, smooth, seductive and sly, carefully constructed to pull the reader along with a minimum of strain" is another of his assets, Turan concluded. Charyn saw Gold's "particular strength" as "the intimacy of detail that he establishes between himself and the reader. . . . In his very best work, . . . he establishes a sad but powerful voice, the wound of isolation, that is slowly dying within and around us." Cook described Gold, simply, as "one of the most gifted writers in America."
Gold once told CA: "When I first began to write, I thought I'd crack the egg and discover the secrets of the universe. Now I keep digging into the shell and discovering new nourishments. It's a game in dead earnest and it keeps me fed, surprised, and entertained. I'm doing the best I can to share the pleasure with readers. (Bottomless egg.)"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Allen, Walter, editor, The Modern Novel in Britain and the United States, Dutton (New York, NY), 1965.
Balakian, Nona and Charles Simmons, editors, The Creative Present, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1963.
Contemporary Fiction in America and England, 1950-1970, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1976.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 4, 1975, Volume 7, 1977, Volume 14, 1980, Volume 42, 1987.
Contemporary Novelists, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 2: American Novelists since World War II, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1978.
Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1981, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1982.
Fiction!: Interviews with Northern California Novelists, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1976.
Hassan, Ihab, Radical Innocence: Studies in the Contemporary American Novel, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1961.
Hicks, Granville, and Jack Alan Robbins, Literary Horizons: A Quarter Century of American Fiction, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1970.
Moore, Harry T., Contemporary American Novelists, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1964.
Nemerov, Howard, Poetry and Fiction: Essays by Howard Nemerov, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1963.
Newquist, Roy, Counterpoint, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1964.
Solotaroff, Theodore, The Red Hot Vacuum and Other Pieces on the Writing of the Sixties, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1970.
Weinberg, Helen, The New Novel in America: The Kafkan Mode in Contemporary Fiction, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1970.
Widmer, Kingsley, The Literary Rebel, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1965.
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