Title: The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived
Author: Tom Shroder
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pub. Date: 4 October, 2016
My review and ratings for this book are broken into three distinct parts:
Three stars for the first two-thirds, because it was intermittently interesting and engrossing, but sometimes confusing to try to keep track of whose grandfather/father he was talking about.
By the time I got to the last hundred pages or so, I had dropped it to a one star with these comments:
It appears to be no easy task to live up to the hype of a mythical literary family member, harder still for a person who only became aware of that influence later in life (despite repeated anecdotes to the contrary) after struggling to achieve greatness in the same vein. Tom Shroder is naked in his drive to find out through exhaustive research exactly why his grandfather was such a compelling person/writer when he himself struggles to extract his own literary output. Even as he discovers and exposes the tender, often ugly, underbellies of the men in the successive generations he explores, he sees in himself the unsatisfying sameness yet difference that somehow leaves him more tortured than before, as if he became frustrated that he could not simply evoke the magic of his family ego.
This is a mediocre book, and after reading nearly all of it, I am still unsure as to what meaning the title was supposed to convey. While it is true the reader learns much about Kantor, the real story is about Shroder himself. The writing in this biography/memoir is fine, but on the whole, the book is uncomfortably self-aware, too full, and meanders through this and that, ending up as part soul-searching, part angry rant, part melancholy oozing, and part airing of dirty laundry to no purpose whatsoever. Maybe it was the format, which was difficult at times to follow from the “I” he was using to write in first person, or the “I” he was using to quote something Kantor or his father described in notes, while freely going back and forth from one to the other. But really, I think it was just too much talk and not much to talk about.
When I got to the last part of the book, I found a completely charming solid five star ending, making the book a worthy trip to have taken overall. In fact, rarely have I come across such a near perfect, wise, and honestly humble denouement in fiction or nonfiction. It not only made everything make sense, it was really good, erasing all of my gripes from earlier.
Could have been a little shorter and less cluttered, but has value beyond a simple biography.
A review copy was received from the publisher through firsttoread in exchange for an honest review.