Mewshaw, Michael 1943-
MEWSHAW, Michael 1943-
PERSONAL: Born February 19, 1943, in Washington, DC; son of John Francis and Mary Helen (Murphy Dunn) Mewshaw; married Linda Kirby, June 17, 1967; children: Sean, Marc. Education: University of Maryland, B.A., 1965; University of Virginia, M.A., 1966, Ph.D., 1970. Religion: Roman Catholic.
ADDRESSES: Home—Key West, FL. Agent—c/o Author Mail, G.P. Putnam's Sons Publicity, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
CAREER: Educator and writer. University of Virginia, Charlottesville, instructor in English, 1970, visiting writer, 1989–91; University of Massachusetts, Amherst, assistant professor of English, 1970–71; University of Texas at Austin, began as assistant professor, became associate professor of English, 1973–83. American Academy, Rome, Italy, visiting artist, 1975–76, writer in residence, 1977–78.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright fellowship in creative writing, 1968–69; William Rainey fellowship to Bread Loaf Writers Conference, 1970; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1974–75; Carr Collins Award for Best Book of Nonfiction, 1980 and 1983; Guggenheim Foundation grant, 1981–82; Book of the Year award from Tennis Week, 1993.
Man in Motion, Random House (New York, NY), 1970.
Waking Slow, Random House (New York, NY), 1972.
The Toll, Random House (New York, NY), 1974.
Earthly Bread, Random House (New York, NY), 1976.
Land without Shadow, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979.
Year of the Gun, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1984.
Blackballed, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1986.
True Crime, Poseidon (New York, NY), 1991.
Shelter from the Storm: A Novel, G. P. Putnam's Sons (New York, NY), 2003.
Island Tempest, G. P. Putnam's Sons (New York, NY), 2004.
Life for Death, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1980.
Short Circuit, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1983.
Money to Burn: The True Story of the Benson Family Murders, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1987.
Playing Away: Roman Holidays and Other Mediterranean Encounters, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1988.
Ladies of the Court: Grace and Disgrace on the Women's Tennis Tour, Crown (New York, NY), 1993.
Do I Owe You Something?: A Memoir of the Literary Life, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 2003.
Contributor of short stories, poetry, articles, and reviews to various periodicals, including Sewanee Review, London Magazine, New Statesman, Texas Monthly, Nation, European Travel and Life, Washington Post, Playboy, Travel Holiday, Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, Architectural Digest, and the New York Times Book Review.
ADAPTATIONS: Year of the Gun, starring Andrew McCarthy and Sharon Stone, was adapted for film by director John Frankenheimer, 1991.
SIDELIGHTS: American author Michael Mewshaw has published works in several genres, including investigations of professional sports, travel essays, mystery novels, and nonfiction accounts of highly-publicized murder cases. He finished his first novel, Man in Motion, while in Europe on a Fulbright fellowship. "Strictly speaking," he commented in a Library Journal article, "[Man in Motion] is not autobiographical, but it obviously partakes of my own experience and of what I have observed of others … [It is] the story of a man who flees and returns, and who may flee again, but who for once recognizes his limitations and realizes the absolute necessity of coming to grips with what he has tried to leave, but which refuses to leave him."
Reviewing Man in Motion for the Washington Post, Larry McMurtry compared it to Jack Kerouac's On the Road: "Both are picaresques; both record journeys across America; both wear themselves out in Mexico." The similarity, he found, ends there. Kerouac's book is more romantic as it "records the exhilaration of a generation at finding it could move." Mewshaw's hero, however, discovers that "moving is finally just tiring." McMurtry commented that along with "the requisite novelistic skills … [Mewshaw] has something more important, and rarer: an instinct for subjects in which something human and crucial is at stake."
In many of his novels, Mewshaw combines an adventure story with questions of moral responsibility. Nation reviewer Alan Cheuse remarked, "Mewshaw, unlike many of our contemporaries, focuses as much on problems of conscience as on problems of conciousness … [he] creates first-rate adventure narrative about believable characters set in an atmosphere of moral rigor." Yet Mewshaw refrained from didacticism. New York Times Book Review critic Jerome Charyn commended the author's restraint in Land without Shadow, writing that the book is remarkable because "it does not create a simplified scheme of good guys and bad guys. It is a novel of dangling men and women, brittle causes and fears … [It] disturbs without preaching to us."
Several critics acknowledged The Toll as Mewshaw's best work up to that point. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, James R. Frakes called it "one of the most thoroughgoing strippings-away of man's pretensions to humanity since Last Exit to Brooklyn—but this time on the level of pure action and impure motives, noble rhetoric curdled into yellow bile, idealism boiled down to gut-survival, flower children rotting on a compost heap." The novel's protagonist, Ted Kuyler, becomes involved with five American hippies who need his help in freeing their friend from a Moroccan jail. A rivalry between Kuyler and the group's pseudorevolutionary leader develops, creating conflicts which lead the group to bribery, deceit, betrayal, and murder. Frakes remarked that "these middle-class freedom fighters stink with deception and self-indulgence and doom themselves by refusing to acknowledge the existence of limits."
Best Sellers critic V.A. Salamone stated that although The Toll is "another contemporary novel loaded with violence … [it] is definitely a spellbinder…. Among all this violence and decay many human values are interwoven which gives some moral worth." New Statesman contributor Peter Straub compared the novel to Roman Polanski's film Chinatown: "Value is invented and local and the world a primal disorder … As in that film, good intentions, experience, passion and foresight, the qualities which should create cases of order, come to nothing."
Life for Death, Mewshaw's first nonfiction book, tells the story of Wayne Dresbach, Mewshaw's childhood friend, who at the age of fifteen shot and killed his socially prominent, adoptive parents one morning in January 1961. Dresbach was given a one-day trial, convicted in twelve minutes, and sentenced to life in prison. In 1978 Mewshaw began his own investigation by interviewing the paroled Dresbach and others connected with the case. His probing uncovered a bizarre tale of child abuse, alcoholism, and sexual experimentation as the motivating force behind the murders. The community and criminal justice system had conspired to conceal this information from the jury, and fear and shame prevented the boy from revealing it.
In the New York Times Book Review, contributor Tom Buckley called the book "a modest, scrupulous rendering of a story of a boy's multiple betrayals that is almost Dickensian in its intensity." Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1980 writer Jean Wyrick commented, "Once more, Mewshaw's powers of description not only enable him to recreate the tragic series of events leading to the murders but also to dramatize accurately and expose the facade of propriety surrounding the case—a facade which silenced witnesses and cost an abused child twenty years of his life."
Following the completion of Life for Death, Mewshaw shifted gears and began a six-month chronicle of the men's professional tennis tour titled Short Circuit. After conducting countless interviews with various players, tour officials, and agents, Mewshaw quickly concluded that the sport was riddled with financial corruption. In his book, he asserts that illegal activities, such as the awarding of bonus money for big-name players to participate in tournaments and the frequent "tanking" of matches, existed and became an accepted practice as the tour increased in popularity. The impact of Short Circuit's publication in 1983 was felt immediately, as tennis star Guillermo Vilas was heavily fined and suspended for one year after it was discovered that he had accepted large sums of participation money from tournament organizers.
Although many critics applauded Mewshaw's investigative abilities and results in Short Circuit, others ultimately failed to see much point in conducting the expose. Charles Leerhsen, writing in Newsweek, commented, "Mewshaw sometimes seems in danger of swooning over rumors and allegations that have been known to the pretzel vendors at Forest Hills for years."
Playing Away: Roman Holidays and Other Mediterranean Encounters, a collection of short travel essays first published in European Travel and Life magazine, offers a realistic portrait of Italy, France, and North Africa. In the New York Times Book Review, Tim Cahill attempted to capture the feeling of the essays, quoting from Mewshaw's examination of the Roman autumn: "'If the streets are the Romans' real home, then during these first wet, chill days, the city has the haunted look of a home abandoned. Grass sprouts in the cracks between the cobblestones, and white marble slabs become veined with green moss. Metal flanges and bolts that help hold together the classical antiquities bleed rust. A vast loneliness settles over the city, and nothing is more forlorn than the empty piazzas where puddles swell slowly into lakes, and tables and chairs are stacked haphazardly outside of cafes like jetsam tossed up by high tide.'"
In 2003, Mewshaw published another nonfiction work, Do I Owe You Something?: A Memoir of the Literary Life. Instead of focusing on his travels, the author steps back through his life to recount times spent working as a writer and meeting other, well-known writers. The memoir is intended to give an honest, often humorous look at the trials and tribulations writers go through during the course of their careers. For much of the book, Mewshaw portrays himself as the younger, less experienced journalist in awe of his famous literary acquaintances. Anecdotes include such noted authors as Gore Vidal, Anthony Burgess, Robert Penn Warren, William Styron, and James Jones.
Critics had positive reactions to Do I Owe You Something? overall. Many readers found Mewshaw's stories to be well-written and entertaining. "He recounts these relationships with a journalist's eye for detail and a novelist's skillful storytelling," observed Nancy R. Ives in a review for the Library Journal. Others found the memoir to be a light and enjoyable read, if lacking in a deeper purpose or meaning. "Written in a chatty, vibrant style, Mewshaw's memoir is not the stuff of great literature, but a good read with great gossip about himself and others," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor.
The following year, Mewshaw published his next novel, Island Tempest. In this work, protagonist Frank Pritchard has been experiencing some rough times; his wife recently passed away, and the company where he worked as an executive has forced him into retirement. Pritchard lives in the Florida resort community of Eden, where he spends much of his free time brooding about his former employer and plotting revenge. In the mean time, Pritchard is being pursued by Randi, a divorced neighbor eager to find a new, wealthy husband. Pritchard is also intrigued by his mysterious neighbor Cal Barlow, who may be in the witness protection program organized by the FBI.
Island Tempest was again met with favorable reviews overall. For some readers, Mewshaw's strong writing skills and interesting characters propelled the story along. "Mewshaw has an uncanny ear for dialogue and razor-sharp descriptive powers," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. For others, it was the author's timely storyline and quick prose that made the book compelling. "Social commentary aplenty and easy readability make it a good bet for baby boomers pondering their own futures," noted Bob Lunn in a review for the Library Journal.
Mewshaw once told CA: "In some ways Man in Motion is more than the title of my first novel. I've spent most of my adult life traveling, sometimes out of curiosity, sometimes out of boredom, more often a combination of both." In an article for the Nation, Mewshaw explained: "Personally I would prefer to go to places where at first I don't speak the language or know anybody, where I easily lose my direction and have no delusions that I'm in control. Feeling disoriented, even frightened, I find myself awake, alive, in ways I never would at home. All my senses suddenly alert, I can hear again, smell, see—and afterward, if I'm lucky, I can write."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 9, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1978.
Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1980, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981.
Garrett, George, editor, The Writer's Voice: Conversations with Contemporary Writers, Morrow (New York, NY), 1973.
Mewshaw, Michael, Do I Owe You Something?: A Memoir of the Literary Life, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 2003.
American Libraries, November, 1988, review of Playing Away: Roman Holidays and Other Mediterranean Encounters, p. 842.
Best Sellers, March 1, 1974, V.A. Salamone, review of The Toll.
Booklist, March 15, 1993, Wes Lukowski, review of Ladies of the Court, p. 1289; February 15, 2003, Frank Sennett, review of Shelter from the Storm: A Novel, p. 1049; October 15, 2004, Wes Lukowski, review of Island Tempest, p. 390.
Book World, August 19, 2001, review of Ladies of the Court: Grace and Disgrace on the Women's Tennis Tour, p. 11.
Business Week, September 26, 1983, review of Short Circuit, p. 21.
Christian Science Monitor, August 12, 1983, review of Short Circuit, p. 4.
50 Plus, June, 1980, Maggie Paley, review of Life for Death, p. 52.
Forbes, October 24, 1983, review of Short Circuit, p. 25.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2002, review of Shelter from the Storm, p. 1794; January 1, 2003, review of Do I Owe You Something?: A Memoir of the Literary Life, p. 42; September 1, 2004, review of Island Tempest, p. 828.
Library Journal, June 15, 1970, interview with Michael Mewshaw; May 15, 1980, Gregor A. Preston, review of Life for Death, p. 1180; July, 1983, review of Short Circuit, p. 1377; April 1, 1984, review of Year of the Gun, p. 734; March 15, 1991, Darryl Dean James, review of True Crime, p. 116; March 15, 1993, J. Sara Paulk, review of Ladies of the Court, p. 82; January, 2003, Nancy R. Ives, review of Do I Owe You Something?, p. 111; February 1, 2003, David Wright, review of Shelter from the Storm, p. 118; October 1, 2004, Bob Lunn, review of Island Tempest, p. 71.
Los Angeles Times, Elizabeth Wheeler, September 4, 1983 review of Short Circuit, p. 2; February 26, 1984, Nick B. Williams, review of Year of the Gun, p. 6; September 21, 2003, review of Do I Owe You Something?, p. 7.
Nation, June 3, 1978, Michael Mewshaw, "Is Anybody Home?"; July 7, 1979, Alan Cheuse, review of Land Without Shadow; September 27, 1980, Michael Meltsner, review of Life for Death, p. 287.
New Criterion, October, 2003, David R. Slavitt, review of Do I Owe You Something?, p. 75.
New England Journal of Prison Law, winter, 1982, Joanne Crowley, review of Life for Death, p. 331.
New Republic, June 14, 1980, David Smith, review of Life for Death, p. 38; November 19, 1991, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Year of the Gun, p. 32.
New Statesman, August 23, 1974, Peter Straub, review of The Toll; July 15, 1983, M. H. Ryle, review of Short Circuit, p. 24.
Newsweek, August 8, 1983, Charles Leerhsen, review of Short Circuit, p. 70.
New Yorker, September 13, 1976; July 30, 1984, review of Year of the Gun, p. 87.
New York Times, September 12, 1976; August 24, 1980, Tom Buckley, review of Life for Death, p. 13; June 26, 1983, George Vecsey, "Smoke and Fire in Tennis," p. 25; August 7, 1983, David E. Rosenbaum, review of Short Circuit, p. 9; October 2, 1983, review of Life for Death, p. 35; June 9, 1984, Anatole Broyard, review of Year of the Gun, p. 15; September 23, 1984, David E. Rosenbaum, review of Short Circuit, p. 46; September 22, 1985, C. Gerald Fraser, review of Year of the Gun, p. 40; March 17, 1993, Esther B. Fein, "Signing Cancelled," p. 2.
New York Times Book Review, March 24, 1974, James R. Frakes, review of The Toll; June 17, 1979, Jerome Charyn, review of Land Without Shadow; August 24, 1980, Tom Buckley, review of Life for Death, p. 13; August 7, 1983, David E. Rosenbaum, review of Short Circuit, p. 9; October 2, 1983, review of Life for Death, p. 35; May 20, 1984, Carol Verderese, review of Year of the Gun, p. 23; September 23, 1984, David E. Rosenbaum, review of Short Circuit, p. 46; September 22, 1985, C. Gerald Fraser, review of Year of the Gun, p. 40; November 30, 1986, John House, review of Blackballed, p. 22; September 13, 1987, Malcolm Jones, review of Money to Burn: The True Story of the Benson Family Murders, p. 28; June 10, 1990, Tim Cahill, review of Playing Away, p. 48; June 30, 1991, Marilyn Stasio, "True Crime," p. 23; April 18, 1993, Robin Finn, review of Ladies of the Court, p. 22; October 24, 1993, "True Crime," p. 36; December 19, 2004, John Hartl, review of Island Tempest, p. 23.
Penthouse, October, 1980, Robert Stephen Spitz, review of Life for Death, p. 56.
People, July 14, 1980, review of Life for Death, p. 12; August 15, 1983, review of Short Circuit, p. 12; June 4, 1984, review of Year of the Gun, p. 18; April 5, 1993, Carol Peace, review of Ladies of the Court, p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, April 18, 1980, review of Life for Death, p. 82; January 2, 1981, Howard Fields, "Libel Suit Filed against Doubleday and Author in D.C.," p. 14; May 20, 1983, review of Short Circuit, p. 225; March 2, 1984, review of Year of the Gun, p. 85; August 3, 1984, review of Short Circuit, p. 66; September 19, 1986, Sybil Steinberg, review of Blackballed, p. 124; September 23, 1988, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Playing Away, p. 56; April 5, 1991, Sybil Steinberg, review of True Crime, p. 137; February 22, 1993, review of Ladies of the Court, p. 77; April 12, 1993, review of Ladies of the Court, p. 42, and Sam Staggs, "Michael Mewshaw: The Prolific Novelist, Traveler, and Sports Writer," p. 42; March 3, 2003, review of Shelter from the Storm, p. 55; March 10, 2003, review of Do I Owe You Something?, p. 64; October 4, 2004, review of Island Tempest, p. 71.
Quill and Quire, November, 1984, review of Year of the Gun, p. 42.
Saturday Review, September, 1983, review of Short Circuit, p. 45; October, 1983, William Cole, review of Short Circuit, p. 45.
Sewanee Review, spring, 2004, Joseph Leo Blotner, review of Do I Owe You Something?, p. 54.
Spectator, July 3, 1993, William Scammell, review of Ladies of the Court, p. 32.
Sports Illustrated, July 11, 1983, Jeremiah Tax, review of Short Circuit, p. 6.
Tennis, July, 1983, review of Short Circuit, p. 64; December, 1983, Donna Doherty, review of Short Circuit, p. 56; October, 1986, Alexander McNab, review of Blackballed, p. 58; December, 1993, Denise Gumpper, review of Ladies of the Court, p. 83.
Texas Monthly, September, 1983, Peter Applebome, review of Short Circuit, p. 188.
Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 2003, review of Do I Owe You Something?, p. 126.
Washington Monthly, September, 1983, Joseph Nocera, review of Short Circuit, p. 58.
Washington Post, October 3, 1970, Larry McMurtry, review of Man in Motion; June 22, 1983, Jonathan Yardley, review of Short Circuit, p. 1; July 14, 1983, Paul M. Barrett, review of Short Circuit, p. 1; June 1, 1984, Oliver Banks, review of Year of the Gun, p. 4.
Women's Review of Books, February, 1994, review of Ladies of the Court, p. 24.
World Tennis, September, 1983, Geoffrey Stokes, review of Short Circuit, p. 102; December, 1983, Wayne Kalyn, "Fair Play," p. 74.
Book Browse, http://www.bookbrowse.com/ (September 12, 2005), biography of and interview with Michael Mewshaw.
Books 'n'Bytes, http://www.booksnbytes.com/ (July 24, 2003), Harriet Klausner, review of Shelter from the Storm.
Key West Literary Seminar, http://www.keywestliteraryseminar.org/ (September 12, 2005), biography of Michael Mewshaw.
Louisiana State University Press, http://www.lsu.edu/lsupress/ (July 24, 2003), description of Do I Owe You Something?.
Penguin Putnam, http://www.penguinputnam.com/ (July 24, 2003), description of Shelter from the Storm and interview with Michael Mewshaw.
Washington Times, http://www.washingtontimes.com/books/ (July 24, 2003), Jack Matthews, review of Do I Owe You Something?.