Morris Lurie

In Wild & Woolley: A Publishing Memoir (2011), Michael Wilding recalls: ‘Morris Lurie sent us a collection, too. I think if he had sent it eighteen months later I would have published it. But when he sent it, right at the beginning, I was narrowly committed to a particular experimental, innovative, new writing … Not publishing Lurie was a decision I later regretted. Over the years I continued to read him, and was increasingly taken by the wit and economy and human observation of his writing.

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Speeding on the freeway, adrift in possibility, in pursuit of dreams, Bilson, the bookman, collections inspected, autographs and associated ephemera, catalogues, modern firsts, blinks to some sort of blockage suddenly dead ahead and stomping the brake feels that shoelace snapping on that shoe suddenly loose on that foot as simultaneously an exit presents to the left which faster than thinking he takes, slewing and slowing, that rushing madhouse quit.

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Madness by Morris Lurie

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July 1991, no. 132

We meet Tannenbaum in his ‘cosy Anne Frankish semi-hidden nook’. These writerly Jewish recluses have very little else in common; Tannenbaum is separated from his wife and two children. His friend/lover Anise is trying to drink her way out of a nervous breakdown. For further solace he resorts to ‘horizontal unravelling’ or ‘psychiatric horizontality’.

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Would it surprise you to know that a number of our well-known writers write to please themselves? Probably not. If there’s no pleasure, or challenge, or stimulus, the outcome would probably not be worth the effort. If this effort is writing, it seems especially unlikely that someone would engage in the activity without enjoying the chance to be their own audience.

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Welcome again to Morris Lurie’s global village: Melbourne, Paris, New York, London, Tangier, Tel Aviv, Melbourne again, London. Lurie is one of our most reliable entertainers, but he is also, in the recesses of his stories, a chronicler of inner loneliness. The round world for him is signposted with stories; as one of his characters says, ‘everything is a story, or a prelude to a story, or the aftermath of one.’ The sheer variety of narrative incidents and locales in this collection is, as usual with him, impressive in itself. His characters play hard with experience in those bright or familiar places, a Tangier of easy living and surprising acquaintances, a London of the sixties fierce with contrasts. Yet finally they are always partly detached from it all and able to set themselves free, curiously able to resume the role of spectator of life. Many of Lurie’s characters give the initially disconcerting impression of possessing that ultimate detachment of a certain kind of writer, even when, as is usually the case, they are not actually cast as a writer or artist.

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If we are not what we eat, and we are not, nor what we read, as we are also not, nevertheless a plate of latkes and a page of Saroyan do something to limn the portrait, as the crashing waves delineate the shoreline rock.

Naah.

Skip that.

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Collections of a writer’s pieces of journalism are usually not well reviewed. The critic is often a journalist whose pieces have not been collected and there is something about the thought of a colleague’s being paid twice that rankles. If the pieces under review are travelogues and and adventures of an enjoyable kind, then the critical appetite for blood will be doubly whetted. The thought of a colleague’s being paid twice for doing what was enjoyable in the first place will sour the critic’s aspect to the extent that his review will be an example of someone’s being paid once for doing something they didn’t enjoy – an experience that some journalists will have you believe is a universal one. (Of course, when their turn comes and a book of their critical pieces is published they go around the place becoming abashedly like a pregnant ex-nun.)

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Seven Books for Grossman by Morris Lurie & Uphill Runner by James McQueen

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May 1984, no. 60

Perhaps too many relatives, constant rain, and excessive New Year celebrations have left me cranky and cheerless, but Morris Lurie’s latest novel, Seven Books for Grossman, did little to improve the general malaise. It is a slight volume. It certainly lacks the insight and compassion of some of Lurie’s short story collections like Dirty Friends. It also lacks the humour.

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