Weiss, Philip 1956(?)-
Weiss, Philip 1956(?)-
PERSONAL: Born c. 1956; married Cynthia Kling (a writer).
CAREER: Journalist, novelist, and author of nonfiction. Worked as crime reporter in Philadelphia, PA.
MEMBER: National Peace Corps Association.
Cock-a-Doodle-Doo (fiction), Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1995.
American Taboo: A Murder in the Peace Corps, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Acts of Charity (nonfiction), photographs by Mark Peterson, PowerHouse Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to publications, including New York Times and Jewish World Review. Contributing writer to New York Times Magazine; contributor editor to Esquire, Harper's, and New York Observer.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A book about New Guinea and Australia.
SIDELIGHTS: Philip Weiss has written a satirical novel and a real-life, disturbing account of a Peace Corps volunteer who was murdered. In his novel Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, Weiss tells the story of a civil liberties lawyer who encounters the seedy side of politics. Jack Gold has worked on the losing side of an idealistic presidential political campaign. As the novel's narrator, Gold recounts how he later loses his job because of his relationship with the daughter of Early Quinlan, a conservative seeking the New York governorship. Gold soon finds himself trying to find dirt on Quinlan's opponent and questioning his own ethics and morality in the process.
A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that Weiss's "narrative rolls along on waves of Holden Caulfieldesque banter," and added that, despite occasional "stilted dialogue," the novel still "packs raw, visceral imagery and the power to surprise with small yet universal truths." Martha Duffy wrote in Time that Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, is a "smart first novel," but disliked the author's use of "vulgarity, including a deadening level of profanity and a comically exaggerated preoccupation with smells." George Needham, writing in Booklist, noted that "Weiss skewers politicians, lawyers, journalists, and socialites with equal panache, and the result is a merrily depressing look at the way we choose our leaders."
In American Taboo: A Murder in the Peace Corps Weiss tells the true story of Peace Corps volunteer Deborah Gardner who was murdered in 1976 in the South Pacific island kingdom of Tonga. Gardner's murderer was fellow Peace Corps volunteer Dennis Priven, who had met Gardner in Tonga and became obsessed with her even though Gardner let him know that she was not interested in him romantically. One evening, Priven entered Gardner's hut and stabbed her to death; he was identified by local natives who ran to the hut when they heard Gardner's screams to discover Priven holding the body. Although Priven was put on trial, the longest in Tonga history, he was eventually acquitted on grounds of insanity, with his case supported by a psychologist hired by the Peace Corps. Priven eventually returned to the United States a free man, with the embarrassing case essentially being covered up by the both the U.S. government and the Peace Corps. In addition to the story of the murder and trial, Weiss follows up on the lives of the Gardner's family and of the accused murderer in the wake of the tragedy.
Writing on the Curled up with a Good Book Web site, Barbara Bamberger Scott called American Taboo "a fascinating chronicle, well researched, full of the enthusiasm and dashed hopes of a group of promising young people unable, unsurprisingly, to deal with the violence in their midst." Some reviewers felt that Weiss's approach to telling the story is flawed. Jill Boyd wrote in the Rocky Mountain News that the author "uses an awkward narrative structure to draw conclusions where none are warranted and to construct a story as much about himself as about the murder of Gardner." Although Weiss tracked down Priven in New York and talked with him more than two decades after the fact, some reviewers were disappointed with the incomplete portrait of the killer, whose conversation with Weiss was essentially off-the-record. Writing in the Seattle Times, J. Patrick Coolican noted, "We are left with an incomplete portrait of this man and what drove him to kill." Nevertheless, many reviewers praised Weiss's effort. In a review in Booklist, Connie Fletcher called American Taboo a "searing portrayal of the government cover-up of the murder." A Publishers Weekly contributor remarked that Weiss has written a "compelling and disturbing expose" and noted that "even novice true crime readers will find this a gripping and deeply sad story."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 1995, George Needham, review of Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, p. 1180; June 1, 2004, Connie Fletcher, review of American Taboo: A Murder in the Peace Corps, p. 1680.
Entertainment Weekly, March 10, 1995, Suzanne Ruta, review of Cock-A-Doodle-Doo, p. 63.
Miami Herald, July 4, 2004, Richard Lipez, review of American Taboo.
Mother Jones, July-August, 2004, Michael W. Robbins, review of American Taboo, p. 84.
Nation, July 19, 2004, Matt Steinglass, review of American Taboo, p. 36.
New York Times, June 27, 2004, Peter Godwin, review of American Taboo.
People, August 2, 2004, Michelle Green, review of American Taboo, p. 48.
Publishers Weekly, January 30, 1995, review of Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, p. 86; May 31, 2004, review of American Taboo, p. 66; May 31, 2004, Leonard Picker, interview with Weiss, p. 65.
Rocky Mountain News, July 11, 2004, Jill Boyd, review of American Taboo.
Seattle Times, June 25, 2004, J. Patrick Coolican, review of American Taboo.
Time, March 17, 1995, Martha Duffy, review of Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, p. 76; June 30, 1995, Harold Goldberg, interview with Weiss, p. 59; March 15, 1996, brief review of Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, p. 59.
Curled up with a Good Book Web site, http://www.curledup.com/ (February 11,2005), Barbara Bamberger Scott, review of American Taboo.