Houghton Mifflin/Peter Davison,
424 pages, $30.00.
Frost was in his sixties and widely regarded as the finest American poet of his time when he appointed Lawrance Thompson his official biographer. This was in 1939, and for more than twenty years Thompson tagged after his peripatetic and seemingly indestructible subject, becoming, in his own opinion, a semi-slave to Frost. He came to hate his master. The eventual biography, which Thompson did not live to complete, represented Frost as a self-promoting egomaniac, a psychological sadist, a monster. It omitted Frost's long love affair with Kay Morrison, who, as the poet's major heir, had a whip hand over any biographer. It omitted a great deal, in fact--including at least half of Frost. Mr. Meyers's widely researched, briskly written, and altogether admirable biography corrects that distorted portrait. The author provides new facts, useful sketches of the many people Frost dealt with, a sympathetic but not idolatrous view of Frost's character and actions, and an astute if sometimes overanalytical interpretation of his poetry. (Mr. Meyers can see a derivation anywhere, and likes them all.) Frost was neither saint nor villain nor rustic sage--merely a poet who, in President John F. Kennedy's words, "brought an unsparing instinct for reality to bear on the platitudes and pieties of society," and, miraculously, persuaded society to love it. Mr. Meyers's biography is a fine corrective both to Thompson's spite and to a certain amount of sentimental guff from other sources.
Holt/John Macrae, 241 pages,
Jerry Kennedy, Mr. Higgins's rasp-tongued criminal-defense lawyer, reappears to good effect in a novel that does not involve his specialty. The dispute is over that standard New England matter--inherited money. The interest of the tale lies in the characters, who, like all the author's people, talk amusingly and at length in what amount to set pieces on foolish laws, spoiled rich brats, press irresponsibility, and their own seedy histories. There is a fine section on how to entice an impatient millionaire into an extravagant deal, and a sickeningly graphic description of what the police encounter in extracting a long-dead body from a bog. Through all this lively, acid eloquence the reader comes to realize that Jerry has been assigned to help the police and the court, normally his enemies, arrange a bit of legal blackmail. The ironic alliance makes for intriguing reading.
The Hunt for Big-Time
Simon & Schuster, 366 pages,
The Hunt for Big-Time
Mr. Hoving, formerly the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, writes entertainingly about art fakes, which, he declares, are as old as humanity. Both museum curators, who presumably should know better, and private collectors have been soundly stung, and "Three words tell the whole story: need, speed, and greed." Mr. Hoving, who admits to having been stung himself on occasion, tells alarming and sometimes absurd stories of such enormous frauds as the Metropolitan's Etruscan warrior. He offers some advice on detecting frauds--which is not likely to help an amateur enthusiast--and a warning that "the art world we are living in today is a new, highly active, unprincipled one of art fakery." It seems that the only safe purchase is a contemporary piece straight from the hands of a living artist. Mr. Hoving has no examples of an artist's faking himself.