Kaplan, James 1951-
KAPLAN, James 1951-
PERSONAL: Born September 10, 1951, in New York, NY; son of Robert (an executive) and Roberta (a psychotherapist; maiden name, Wennik) Kaplan; married Karen Cumbus (a psychologist), July 31, 1983; children: Jacob, Aaron, Avery. Education: Wesleyan University, B.A., 1973. Religion: Jewish.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Putnam, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
CAREER: New Yorker, New York, NY, editorial typist, 1974-76; freelance writer, 1976-82 and 1987—; University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, assistant professor of English, 1978-79; United Research Co., Morristown, NJ, editor and office manager, 1982-84; Warner Bros., Burbank, CA, screenwriter, 1984-87; United Artists, screenwriter, 1986-87. Contributing editor, Manhattan, Inc., 1985-89; contributing editor, Vanity Fair magazine, 1989-91; contributing writer, Entertainment Weekly magazine, 1991-93; contributing editor, New York magazine, 1993-99; contributing writer, Premier, 1997; special correspondent, Us Weekly magazine, 2000—.
MEMBER: Writers Guild of America.
Pearl's Progress (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1989.
The Airport: Terminal Nights and Runway Days atJohn F. Kennedy International, W. Morrow (New York, NY), 1994, published as The Airport: Planes, People, Triumphs and Disasters at John F. Kennedy International, W. Morrow (New York, NY), 1996.
Two Guys from Verona: A Novel of Suburbia, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1998.
(With John McEnroe) You Cannot Be Serious, Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.
(With Harvey Weinstein) The Art of Miramax, Talk Miramax Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Also author of screenplays. Contributor of articles and stories to magazines, including New Yorker and Esquire.
SIDELIGHTS: James Kaplan's writing career is grounded in both screenwriting and journalism, and his versatility has resulted in a diverse range of publications, both fiction and nonfiction. Equally at home writing about the entertainment world for publications such as Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, or the everyday routines of airports in The Airport: Terminal Nights and Runway Days at John F. Kennedy International, Kaplan has also written two well-received novels and coauthored the autobiographies of tennis star John McEnroe and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
In his novel Two Guys from Verona: A Novel of Suburbia, Kaplan introduces Will and Joel, high-school friends now in their early forties who have remained friends even though their lives have taken different paths. Will, the former nerd, has cobbled together a life approximating the American dream, with a successful wife, two kids, and a job running his father's cardboard-box manufacturing company. Will's scramble to hang on to his upwardly mobile existence is a stark contrast to Joel, the promising high-school star who now lives in his mother's house and makes sandwiches at a deli. Joel is unconcerned with ambition, appearances, or the trappings of suburbia, but is obsessed by the disappearance of his beautiful high-school sweetheart, Cindy Island. In their off hours, Will and Joel cruise around their home town of Verona, New Jersey, where they still live, in Joel's decrepit Impala, with Will obsessing about his portfolio and Joel pontificating about his mysterious color theory. Will's wife, a lawyer, yearns to establish herself in the right house in the right neighborhood, while Will, when not consumed by financial data, lusts after his secretary.
As the calendar edges toward the turn of the millennium, Will and Joel's twenty-fifth high-school reunion provides an unexpected catalyst that changes their lives. Will is drawn to a woman with shady underworld connections who is obsessed with Joel. But Joel is still spends his evenings gazing longingly at Cindy Island's long-deserted bedroom window. As events unfold during a holiday season rife with conspicuous consumption, Will finds himself receiving unwanted attention from a couple of thugs, and Joel, who resists change, has his world turned upside down at the discovery he has a daughter. In the end, following the New Year's Eve party in which the odometer turns over to the year 2000, Will loses everything except his life, and Joel gains a family due to his steadfast refusal to be a participant in America's throw-away and self-absorbed suburban culture. In the end, wrote Harvey Grossinger of the Houston Chronicle, "Two Guys from Verona is a novel charged by the idea of finding a home, a safe haven in a dangerous and confusing world."
Many critics praised the novel. Several reviewers compared Kaplan's writing to that of John Cheever and John Updike, particularly with regard to his themes of middle-aged men bonding over their immaturity and the excesses of the suburban lifestyle. Grossinger praised the book for its "chilly and unrelenting depiction of a vapid American upper-middle-class . . . choking on its twisted myths of power and self-realization." And Donna Seaman of Booklist admired "Kaplan's marvelously supple and understated style," and called the book a "witty, sexy, and wise comedy of errors and corrections." Tom Perrotta of the New York Times Book Review commended the author's tactic of setting the book several years into the future, a factor that "provokes a mild uneasiness in the reader that mirrors the anxiety of his characters, who are frequently distressed by the realization that it is later than they think, that the future has somehow crept up on them while they weren't looking." Perrotta concluded that Two Guys from Verona is "fascinating," as well as "peculiar and powerful," a sentiment echoed by a critic for Publishers Weekly, who called Kaplan's sense of suburbia "ironically observed and engaging."
A profile of tennis legend John McEnroe that Kaplan wrote for the New Yorker was the basis for You Cannot Be Serious, an autobiography of the notoriously ill-tempered sports star. Both the article and the book attempt to portray McEnroe as somewhat mellowed in middle age, comfortable with his bellicose reputation and trying—and mostly succeeding—to become a dignified elder spokesperson for the sport of tennis. The book covers his budding perfectionism as a child through his rise as an athlete; his high-profile marriages to Tatum O'Neal, which was marred by substance abuse and discontent, and to Patty Smyth, with whom he raises his six children in some degree of normalcy; his big-mouth antics on the tennis court; and his latter-day attempt to curb his emotions through anger management classes. Throughout it all, Kaplan remains in the background, allowing the man who is "addicted to attention," as McEnroe himself says, to recount the tension of his most notorious matches and declare that he would really rather have been a rock musician.
The book was well received by many critics. Although a writer for Publishers Weekly wrote that the original New Yorker article showed McEnroe to be both "affable" and "brash," the critic wished that "a little more of that boldness would have crept [into]" the book. Wes Lukowsky of Booklist enjoyed the book's tales of "youthful excesses and the self-important posturing." And Theo Tait of London's Sunday Telegraph liked the book as well, calling it a "tremendously entertaining and frequently hilarious.... classic study in competitive rage." Dwight Chapin of the San Francisco Chronicle deemed it "one of the best sports books in years" and claimed it has "enough breadth and depth to sustain interest even in the casual or non-tennis fan."
James Kaplan once told CA, "I am that rarest of birds, a full-time professional writer of fiction and nonfiction, self-employed and outside academia. In fiction I am an intimist; in my nonfiction I try to use my fiction skills—primarily the study of personality—to understand the workings of the world. The five senses are extraordinarily important to me. The first canon of art is interest. The reader must be entertained, along with the writer. Formulation is pale."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 59, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990, pp. 70-73.
McEnroe, John, and James Kaplan, You Cannot Be Serious,Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.
Artforum International, March, 1998, Matthew De-Bord, a review of Two Guys from Verona: A Novel of Suburbia, p. S26.
Booklist, November 15, 1997, Donna Seaman, a review of Two Guys from Verona, p. 541; June 1 & 15, Wes Lukowsky, a review of You Cannot Be Serious, p. 1643.
Chicago Tribune, February 26, 1989, p. 6.
Houston Chronicle, May 17, 1998, Harvey Grossinger, "Two Guys Meander Funnily toward Home," p. 22.
Library Journal, November 15, 1997, Lawrence Rungren, a review of Two Guys from Verona, p. 76.
Los Angeles Times, March 2, 1989.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 8, 1998, a review of Two Guys from Verona, p. 9.
New York Times Book Review, February 22, 1998, Tom Perrotta, "The Boys in the Burbs," p. 11.
Publishers Weekly, October 27, 1997, a review of TwoGuys from Verona, p. 51; June 3, 2002, a review of You Cannot Be Serious, p. 82.
San Francisco Chronicle, June 10, 2002, Dwight Chapin, "Serious Look at McEnroe," p. C2.
Sunday Telegraph (London), June 23, 2002, Theo Tait, "Superbrat's Greatest Hits," p. 12.
Time, February 9, 1998, John Skow, a review of TwoGuys from Verona, p. 102.