Spanbauer, Tom 1946(?)-

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Spanbauer, Tom 1946(?)-

PERSONAL:

Born in c. 1946, in Pocatello, ID. Education: Attended Idaho State University and Columbia University.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Portland, OR; and New York, NY. Agent—Donadio & Ashworth Associates, 121 W. 27th St., Ste. 704, New York, NY 10001. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer, novelist, and educator. Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya, East Africa. Has worked as a waiter, wine steward, and building manager in New York, NY. Also founder of Dangerous Writing workshop for writers, Portland, OR, c. 1991.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

WRITINGS:

Faraway Places (novel), Putnam (New York, NY), 1988, reprinted, Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts (Portland, OR), 2007.

Les Chiens de L'Enter, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1989.

The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon (novel), Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1991.

In the City of Shy Hunters (novel), Grove Press (New York, NY), 2001.

Now Is the Hour, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2006.

Also author of Mississippi Mud. Contributor to periodicals, including Quarterly.

ADAPTATIONS:

Author's books have been adapted for audio, including The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon.

SIDELIGHTS:

Tom Spanbauer's novels tell the stories of society's outsiders, including half-breeds, prostitutes, the terminally ill, and those in the sexual demimonde. He is "something of a poetic fabulist," observed Rick Levin on The Stranger Web site, and his characters are subject to hard twists of fate. Faraway Places, The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, and In the City of Shy Hunters are "novels with an existential ax to grind," Levin continued. "Always at stake in Spanbauer's work is being itself—the human spirit vying for wholeness, struggling against disintegration. And yet for all the philosophizing, Spanbauer never lets abstraction get in the way of a powerful yarn. His pacing is superb; his characters, deep and compelling."

In his first work, Faraway Places, Spanbauer details the events of a young Idaho boy's life during the 1950s. The narrator, thirteen-year-old Jake Weber, sets the action into motion when he disobeys his parents' rules and goes swimming in the local river. From the water, the boy witnesses the murder of an Indian woman by Harold Endicott, a law-and-order banker who holds the mortgage to the Webers' land. As events unfold, Jake begins to realize that life is, in the words of a West Coast Review of Books contributor, "a web of illusions."

Faraway Places received favorable reviews when it was published in 1988. Publishers Weekly contributor Sybil Steinberg praised the work as a promising first novel, noting that "Spanbauer tells his short, brutal story with delicacy and deep respect for place and character." Other reviewers, such as Deborah Hoffmann in the New York Times Book Review, noted the language of the narrative and commented on the spellbinding effect of "the repetitious, incantatory quality of Jake's injured monologue, which initially seems vexing [and] ultimately comes to hypnotize, shimmering like the brilliant sun on the alfalfa fields." James H. Maguire in Western American Literature commented on the diversity of the characters, which includes Mormons, Native Americans, blacks, and Catholics. Maguire further remarked that Faraway Places is "rich with symbols, and woven into the narrative are religious, historical, social, and psychological themes."

Three years later, Spanbauer followed Faraway Places with a second novel, The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon. The story focuses on Shed, a young, half- Shoshone Indian who in 1905 has taken a job as a bisexual prostitute in an Idaho bordello after the murder of his mother. Shed searches for identity in the West, exploring the myths of his people for an understanding of life. As Spanbauer writes in the novel: "Through his mother's tribe, Shed observes an old injustice: Outside the light of the fire, in the darkness beyond, all around them was only flat, only sagebrush and wind." Spanbauer continues: "Fences all around them, reservation—and beyond, in the darkness within the darkness, all around them was Keep Out, all around them … surrounding my mother's people, was America." Later Shed discovers the Indian legend that "knowledge can become understanding during the dark of the moon—that you can come face to face with who you are and who you think you are."

Typical of the critical reactions to the book was Richard Lipez's review in the Washington Post Book World, which asserted that Spanbauer captured the "magical poetry of Indian everyday life" and noted that "his characters leap off the page so entertainingly that they take on a reality that transcends those things that are unlikely about them." The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon is a "brave … heart-rending fable about the Old West," wrote a Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor. "This is a book as bright as it is dark, … a quirky, unsettling look at American history and a vision quest in the grand old tradition."

It was ten years before Spanbauer completed his next novel, In the City of Shy Hunters. The busy plot follows Will Parker, a stuttering, impotent Caucasian raised on an Indian reservation by his father—an alcoholic rodeo clown—and his mentally ill mother. As a young man, Will heads to New York City in search of his blood brother and first lover, Charlie Two Moons. Once he reaches New York, Will is surrounded by a colorful new group of friends, and he is soon working as a waiter in a stylish restaurant. He falls in love with Rose, a towering African-American transvestite, but Rose is beginning to succumb to AIDS. A Publishers Weekly contributor praised In the City of Shy Hunters as an "expertly drawn, starkly authentic" picture of life in New York at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. "Spanbauer's rapid-fire narration and clipped sentences generate a surprising amount of tension and gritty emotion, as does his vibrant, dead-on dialogue and keen sense of place," continued the reviewer.

David Bergman, writing in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, praised the book for its portrayal of "a social hierarchy that is downright hostile to the dispossessed, the homeless, the different, the sick and the spiritually hungry." Bergman commended the author for speaking out with a "deep-throated passion for the downtrodden." Susan Wickstrom and Myrlin A. Hermes advised on Willamette Week Online that while "the book may consist of letters typed upon a page … those words transcend mere storytelling by nearly leaping forth and materializing into a stunning theatrical presentation. This is writing as performance art."

"It's my job as a writer to tell a good story, but also it's to talk about those people who've fallen through the cracks," Spanbauer told Wickstrom and Hermes. "This idea of corporate America—it's so heartless, and there's really no room for creativity. There's no poetry in the schools or on the streets. And because we don't have that poetry, we're really alienating anyone with a poetic soul. My way of fighting back is writing stories. I can only speak with my pen."

In his novel Now Is the Hour, Spanbauer focuses on teenager Rigby John Klusener. An Idaho farm boy in the 1960s, Rigby believes that the fates are against him and, as he turns seventeen, seeks to be free of the constraints of his conservative, Catholic home. As Rigby sets out to hitchhike to California, the reader learns of what drove him to leave home, including his abusive father and classmates. Nevertheless, Rigby does find some respite in his life in Idaho, including a fling with a hippy girl attending a public school and infatuation with a gay alcoholic Indian that helps Rigby discover that he is gay. Brad Hooper wrote in Booklist that the author's "storytelling voice is natural, warm, and positively addictive," adding that the novel is "breathtaking, romantic, and unpredictable." A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented: "Spanbauer … writes this fairly traditional coming-of-age story with a raw energy that makes it compelling."

Spanbauer once summarized his life for CA: "Tom Spanbauer was born in Pocatello, Idaho, in the Princess Drive-In Theater, in the trunk. I've always wanted to say that. Things important to me are: I loved my big sister Barbara so much I used to save my allowance so I could give it to her. As a kid, my favorite thing was being an altar boy, especially during the Mother of Perpetual Help devotions, when I could say, ‘I who am most miserable of all.’ No matter what I do, photographs of myself always end up looking like I'm a hip Jesuit. My adolescence was spent behind a hay baler. I was king of the senior ball. Drove a '58 Chevy two-door hardtop until I traded it in on a '65 Chevy Impala two-door hardtop purple, black interior, 327 four-speed with bucket seats. Used to buzz the Snac-Out, the Dairy Queen, then up to the Red Steer, then back down to the trampolines and miniature golf, then back to the Snac-Out and Dairy Queen.

"All my high school pals went to Vietnam. I didn't go to Vietnam because I went to class. Studied English literature at Idaho State University in Pocatello. Never left Pocatello until I broke up with Suzie because she thought I was a too-straight frat boy. Her favorite song was San Francisco. I went to San Francisco. Put some flowers in my hair and came back with a moustache. My high school buddies haven't spoken to me since—or my frat buddies. I first smoked marijuana at Suzie's sister's house, rubbed mashed potatoes in Suzie's face, went home, and wrote this poem: ‘Heavenly Hues of dusk / capture the wildest thoughts and dreams / of young lovers / as they stroll within the golden reams / of the setting sun's radiance.’

"In the Peace Corps in Kenya I lived in a tent at the base of Kilimanjaro, spoke Kiswahili most of the time for two years, had a serious encounter with every animal in the Amboseli Game Reserve, and started writing my first novel on my table with the kerosene lamp under the mosquito net. Never did get past the story of the prostitute on the train to Mombasa. Truth was, I was in love with Ernest Hemingway. A psychic once told me that Ernest Hemingway was trying to reach me from the other side. Made sense to me—Hemingway had died in Idaho where I was born. Then there I was in Africa just a mile from the short happy life. Back in college, I had a class with Muffy Hemingway. Sat right next to her. Then down the line, years later, when I was working as a waiter at Annabelle's in Boise, Jack Hemingway would come in, and I'd wait on him, and Mary Hemingway would come in and I'd wait on her. Then there was the time I went to Studio 54 and who asked me to dance but Margaux Hemingway.

"Took a French class at Dartmouth because it was free and I wanted to improve myself. That was about the time I finished my novel. Called it Where the Owls Chase the Chickens. Spent one whole day and about a hundred dollars making copies, put them copies in an old leather case, put my Jimmy Stewart hat on, got on Piedmont airlines, and flew to New York City. Went to three agents and four publishing houses. Just walked in the door and asked if I could see the person in charge.

Took me two days and one night. That one night was the night I went to Studio 54 and danced with Margaux. At Random House, I'd asked the receptionist how you got into a place like Studio 54. She said all I had to do was look gay. When I told her I thought I was, she said, not gay, look gay. And she told me how looking gay was. So that's what I did. Slicked my hair back, put on my guinea T and my 501s and my s—-kickers, and did fifty push-ups on the street before I hailed a cab and told him where to take me. Me in the cab and pumped up fifty and looking gay like that, me sniffing and grinding my jaw, looking as if all my labels read cocaine, I walked right in.

"My Jimmy Stewart in New York managed to get me an agent who did me no good. The editor there said I didn't have to describe every tree in my back yard to have a successful novel. She suggested I cut it, so I spent the next four months cutting it. When I sent it back she had moved to another publishing house. Never thought to send it to her there.

"Wasn't much after that I moved to New York City and was accepted at Columbia University Writing Program. I've got a thousand New York stories. Sometime, like my African animal stories, I'm going to tell one loving person, all the stories—all of them. Spring Street and trying to get a job at the Wine Bar in Soho, me so filled with trepidation at the daunting fact that I was once again still trying to get a job as a waiter, that all I could do was order glasses of wine until I was too drunk to fill out the application. My first New York job: Gordon's Restaurant on Father Fagan Square with the computer who hated me. Then on to the sublime Odeon for lunch and Un Deux Trois for dinner.

"Thousands of celebrity stories, I've got. New York stories. African stories. Celebrity stories. Some day I'll tell them all.

"After that I became a super. Closest thing to being a farmer in Manhattan as you can get. Up early, always fixing breakdowns, one eye always on the storm clouds. Six buildings. Sweep. Mop. Two boilers. Two oil filters to change regular. Forty-six units. Sidewalk clean every morning. Dog s—-picked up, garbage in tied plastic bags. Busted fuses in the middle of the night. Broken pipes. Crack addicts in the hallway. The dead guy in the vestibule of 225. No hot water. No heat. New Yorkers no hot water no heat. Five and a half years.

"Then there was my short story, ‘Sea Animals,’ in the first Quarterly, and me with my name in People magazine and reviewed in the Village Voice. Then my novel Faraway Places coming out with Putnam. Me in the New York Times Book Review—not one negative word. Rich and Famous.

"Plan to be an old man in a garden with big old man hands barely fitting the keyboard, big old man hands not too big though to reach down, snap up a blade of grass and bring the grass between my lips. That's how I'll begin my stories—my Catholic stories, my American Graffiti stories, my hippie stories, my African stories, my African animal stories, my celebrity stories, my everybody practically dead stories—all of them—I'll begin with my big old man hands putting the blade of grass between my lips."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Spanbauer, Tom, The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1991.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, May 15, 1998, Whitney Scott, review of The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon (audio version), p. 1645; June 1, 2001, Whitney Scott, review of In the City of Shy Hunters, p. 1814; May 1, 2006, Brad Hooper, review of Now Is the Hour, p. 74.

Christopher Street, January 20, 1992, Bob Satuloff, "1991: A Novel Year," p. 3.

Entertainment Weekly, May 19, 2006, Raymond Fiore, review of Now Is the Hour, p. 80.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2001, review of In the City of Shy Hunters, p. 360; March 15, 2006, review of Now Is the Hour, p. 261.

Lambda Book Report, summer, 2006, Cathy Camper, "Tom Spanbauer," interview with author, p. 4; summer, 2006, Cathy Camper, review of Now Is the Hour, p. 6.

Library Journal, October 1, 1991, Janet W. Reit, review of The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, p. 142; July, 1992, Marsha Spyros, review of The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, p. 160; April 1, 2001, T.R. Salvadori, review of In the City of Shy Hunters, p. 134; May 1, 2006, Kevin Greczek, review of Now Is the Hour, p. 84.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 15, 1991, review of The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, p. 6.

New York Times Book Review, August 21, 1988, Deborah Hofmann, review of Faraway Places, p. 20; September 22, 1991, Jerome Charyn, review of The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, p. 20.

People, June 19, 2006, Liza Nelson and Kyle Smith, review of Now Is the Hour, p. 51.

Publishers Weekly, April 8, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of Faraway Places, p. 75; July 19, 1991, review of The Man Who Fell In Love with the Moon, p. 45; June 4, 2001, review of In the City of Shy Hunters, p. 55; May 22, 2006, Emily Chenoweth, "The Mother Load," biography of author, p. 22.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 2001, David Bergman, review of In the City of Shy Hunters, p. 210.

Times Literary Supplement, March 6, 1992, Nicholas Clee, review of The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, p. 21.

Washington Post, June 13, 2001, Thom McGonigle, review of In the City of Shy Hunters, p. C3.

Washington Post Book World, October 6, 1991, Richard Lipez, review of The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, p. 4.

West Coast Review of Books, Volume 14, number 1, 1988, review of Faraway Places, p. 24.

Western American Literature, summer, 1989, James H. Maguire, review of Faraway Places, p. 174.

ONLINE

HX,http://64.78.33.181/index.cfm/ (May 9, 2007), "Sex, the '60s and the Trouble with Syntax," interview with author.

OregonLive.com,http://www.oregonlive.com/books/ (August 4, 2001), interview with Tom Spanbauer.

Portland Mercury,http://www.portlandmercury.com/ (May 9, 2007), Will Gardner, review of Now Is the Hour.

Salon,http://www.salon.com/ (August 4, 2001), Peter Kurth, review of In the City of Shy Hunters.

Stranger,http://www.thestranger.com/ (August 4, 2001), Rick Levin, review of In the City of Shy Hunters.

Tom Spanbauer Home Page,http://www.tomspanbauer.com (May 9, 2007).

Tom Spanbauer My Space Page,http://profile.myspace.com/ (May 9, 2007).

Williamette Week Online,http://www.wweek.com/ (August 4, 2001), Susan Wickstrom and Myrlin A. Hermes, review of In the City of Shy Hunters and interview with Tom Spanbauer.