Hjortsberg, William (Reinhold) 1941-
HJORTSBERG, William (Reinhold) 1941-
Surname is pronounced Yorts-berg; born February 23, 1941, in New York, NY; son of Helge (a restaurateur) and Ida (Welti) Hjortsberg; married (divorced); children: Lorca Isabel, Max William. Education: Dartmouth College, B.A., 1962; graduate study at Yale University, 1962-63, and Stanford University, 1967-68.
Home—2586 Boulder Rd., McLeod, MT 59052. Agent—Ben Camardi, Harold Matson Company, 276 Fifth Ave., Suite 713, New York, NY 10001.
Writer. Montana State University, adjunct professor in department of media and theatre arts. Teacher in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, 1963-64, 1966-67, draughtsman in New Haven, CT, 1965, and stock boy in a grocery in Bolinas, CA, for three months of 1968.
Wallace Stegner creative writing fellowship, 1967; Playboy Editorial Award for best new fiction contributor, 1971, for short version of Gray Matters; National Endowment for the Arts, creative writing fellowship grant, 1976; Playboy editorial award for best major work, 1978, for short version of Falling Angel.
Alp, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1969.
Gray Matters (also see below), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1971.
Symbiography (also see below), Sumac Press (Fremont, MI), 1973.
Toro! Toro! Toro!, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1974.
Falling Angel, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich (New York, NY), 1978.
Tales & Fables, Sylvester & Orphanos (Los Angeles, CA), 1985.
Nevermore, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1994.
Odd Corners: The Slip-Stream World of William Hjortsberg (includes Gray Matters and Symbiography), Shoemaker & Hoard (Washington, DC), 2004.
Also author of film scripts, including Thunder and Lightning, Twentieth Century-Fox; Georgia Peaches (television film), "CBS Movie of the Week," 1980; and Legend, Universal, 1986. Work included in books such as Prize College Stories, Random House, 1963; In Youth, Ballentine, 1972; Silent Seasons, Dutton, 1978; Season of the Angler, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1988; Montana Spaces, Nick Lyons, 1988; Fathers and Sons, Grove Weidenfeld, 1992; Sacred Trusts, Mercury House, 1993; and The Big Sky, St. Martin's Press, 1998. Contributor to Look, Sports Illustrated, Playboy, Last Supplement of the Whole Earth Catalog, New York Times Book Review, Catholic World, and other periodicals.
Author's work has been translated into several European languages and Japanese.
Falling Angel was adapted by Alan Parker as the 1987 motion picture Angel Heart.
Considered by many critics to be one of the forerunners of the modern punk and virtual fiction genres, William Hjortsberg has written two novels that combine elements of the supernatural with those of the crime novel genre. Falling Angel, which is set in 1959, finds private eye Harry Angel hired by Louis Cyphre to locate a nightclub singer named Johnny Favorite. Favorite was popular during World War II, but was injured while performing overseas for the troops. He was sent to a hospital stateside and Cyphre, who claims to have helped the singer early in his career, cannot find him. Angel begins his investigation but soon finds that people he interviews wind up dead, and uncovers disturbing suggestions that Favorite may have sold his soul to the devil for show business success. A popular novel, Falling Angel was adapted as the 1985 film Angel Heart, starring Robert De Niro and Mickey Rourke. S. T. Joshi, writing in the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers, called Hjortsberg's fictional tale "as clever a fusion of the hard-boiled crime story with the tale of supernatural horror as any novel in recent years."
In Nevermore, Hjortsberg sets his story in 1920s New York City and teams Harry Houdini with Arthur Conan Doyle in tracking down a serial killer whose crimes are imitations of deaths found in the stories of nineteenth-century writer Edgar Allan Poe. Although Joshi believed that the novel "strains credulity, failing to produce either a satisfying mystery story or an engaging tale of the supernatural," a critic for Publishers Weekly dubbed it a "droll and captivating fantasy—part gothic mystery, part Who's Who of the Jazz Age, part Perils of Pauline." Wes Lukowsky, writing in Booklist, concluded that Nevermore is "an entertaining historical mystery."
Two of Hjortsberg's early works—the 1971 novel Gray Matters and the 1973 novella Symbiography—as well as several of his short stories, were published together in 2004 as Odd Corners: The Slip-Stream World of William Hjortsberg. In Gray Matter readers are introduced to a world wherein most humans have been reduced to mere brains, which exist underground in sanitized surroundings as human spirits trapped in an immobile form. Symbiography finds Par Sondak making a living as a professional dreamer who makes money by selling his imaginative mental concoctions. With all work performed for him in his automated existence, Par has nothing to do, so he lives vicariously through his imagination. With a high demand for new dreams, he undertakes a search for new intellectual stimulation, which he finds in the person of a social outcast living in the post-Apocalyptic wasteland surrounding Par's protected home. When Par brings the vagabond into his home, the clash between two cultures threatens to disrupt Par's formerly complacent life. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that "Hjortsberg knows his postapocalyptic tropes inside and out, having blazed quite a few trails of his own"; Odd Corners, the critic added, "makes… an effective statement on technology's infantilizing effect on humanity."
Before settling in Montana in 1971, Hjortsberg spent almost nine years abroad—mainly in Mexico, St. Croix, on the island of Formentera in Spain, and in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. As he once noted, "I enjoy fly fishing, both for trout and in salt water; upland game shooting, skiing, riding horses, body surfing, sketching, exploring unfamiliar places, and conversation. Although born in New York, I tend now to avoid cities. As a boy, I wanted to be a painter. I believe that the land and sky and water belong to the people and are not the exclusive property of industry and commerce. I don't believe in nationalism, flags, boundary lines, systems, or nineteenth-century technology. I like the Apollo Project photos of earth; one world, alive and green."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Booklist, October 1, 1994, Wes Lukowsky, review of Nevermore, p. 242.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2004, review of Odd Corners: The Slip-Stream World of William Hjortsberg, p. 147.
Life, October 24, 1969.
Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1971.
New Republic, September 13, 1974.
New York Times, December 16, 1969.
New York Times Book Review, October 31, 1971; August 25, 1974.
Publishers Weekly, August 1, 1994, review of Nevermore, p. 70; May 24, 2004, review of Odd Corners, p. 50.
William Hjortsberg Web site,http://www.williamhjortsberg.com (February 25, 2005).