15 Followers
37 Following
deborahmarkus7

deborahmarkus7

Currently reading

Saints in Art
Thomas Michael Hartmann, Stefano Zuffi, Rosa Giorgi
The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson's Envelope Poems
Emily Dickinson, Susan Howe
Selected Poems
Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson
Cynthia Griffin Wolff
Lies My Teacher Told Me : Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
James W. Loewen
Gone with the Wind
Margaret Mitchell

Helene Hanff: A Life

Helene Hanff: A Life - Stephen R. Pastore This is, quite simply, the worst book ever written.

The only way it could be worse is if the author had opted for comic sans. Other than an acceptable font, it has every possible flaw.

Ludicrous spelling errors:

Helene finished off the beer in her glass, signaled the waiter for the check, and continued picking at the chow mien.

Her favorite was smoked turkey with Russian dressing and coleslaw on a crusty role.

As for the 1960s British wave of rock that crashed on American shores, in particular the Beetles, she quipped, "They're cute but that music!"

(Just so you know that's really how he thinks that's spelled, a few sentences later he confirms it:

Eventually she embraced the Beetles.)

Punctuation errors:

Why do people keep receipts, she asked aloud.

Really amazing punctuation errors:

The hat was gone, the sweater was gone,; only the rain boots remained in their place in the hall closet.

Lots of unnecessary dashes:

Helene was very careful to maintain a façade throughout the book that represented her as she wanted people to see her. It was never meant to be autobiographical and it was only my monthly payments to her – a topic I will discuss later – that produced the truth, if truth be the word – of the woman behind the typewriter.

(By the way, he never discusses those payments later. Or if he did, he held that discussion in the privacy of his own home. Certainly he doesn't tell the reader anything more about this ethically dubious choice.)

...and unnecessary hyphens:

I do not wish to re-hash material she covered so well.

If there are fabrications, I could not evaluate them and third party sources, as I have said, were non-existent.

This, I think, was unique to Helene – that she should pre-maturely abandon the hope of a meaningful relationship because of a heartbreaking jilting.

Sentences you'd sprain your wrist trying to diagram:

Always with an eye for the ladies, her striking slim figure and long jet black hair done up in a fashionable "French twist," Miriam caught his rapt attention.

A scofflaw attitude to proofreading that's almost refreshing in its arrogance:

Maxine had a four hour break, since they were working on a scene that did not incSo, she had hoped Helene would be available for a late lunch.

Sentences with so much wrong with them, they defy description:

I need inspiration, and tucked her arm in Simon's as they walked down Greenwich Avenue inspiration and a new place to live.

...and an author who thinks we're interested in his life, when really we're just here to learn about Helene Hanff's:

I was there and would have voted for Genghis Khan if he promised to save my butt by not drafting me to be cannon-fodder in a jungle I knew nothing about and cared even less for.

This author will tell you everything you never asked to know about obscure beverages:

...Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray tonic, a drink which had been touted for decades about its healthy content of celery juice. The USDA forced the company to call it Cel-Ray (it used to be "Celery Tonic") when it was discovered that virtually no celery juice ever saw the interior of Dr. Brown's bottling plant.

...but won't tell you how Helene Hanff's engagement to be married broke up. This is a point of vital interest to admirers of Hanff. No one who's read the work of this funny, friendly, obviously appealing woman can help wondering why the social life she describes in her published letters, diaries, and other autobiographical material has no hint of any romance, past or present. It's rude of us, and possibly sexist – would we be this curious about a single male author? But it's impossible not to be curious on the point.

Pastore mentions this several times in the course of this mess of words. One chapter even gives the impression that he's going to spill the beans. He goes into great detail about the fact that Hanff accepted a proposal from Joe Heidt, a man she was very much in love with if this account is to be trusted. They set a date for the wedding, and in a rare display of proper spelling and hyphenation from the author, Helene bought a "simple off-the-shoulder satin dress." The chapter ends with this paragraph:

Shortly after their conversation, Joe informed Lois he was going out of town for a short trip and asked her to take care of Helene for him. While the trip was secretive, Helene did not seem to wonder about it and used the time while he was away to relax and catch up on her reading.

Okay. So...then what? Did he just never come back? Or while he was gone, did she move without leaving a forwarding address? Or what?

Your guess is as good as mine. The next chapter starts with a confusing, undated description of Helene puttering around an apartment. She clearly lives there alone, and she had a roommate in the previous chapter, so this must be the future. Or something. No reference is made to the engagement, though this future Helene thinks wistfully about another guy she was romantically involved with and is now no longer dating.

What the cow? The author collected his information about Hanff from the "over 150 hours of interviews along with nine spiral notebooks of notes about everything from her literary interests to her friends, her paramours and her family." If Helene talked to Pastore about being engaged to Heidt and then suddenly refused to say how they broke up – well, Hanff is famously quirky. That could have happened. But then say so. And tell us more about that other guy, while you're at it.

This biography refuses to do anything as straightforward as tell a life story. It's nothing but a collection of random, undated scenes and anecdotes recorded by an aggressively bad writer.

If you're a fan of Hanff's work and you've always wanted to know more about her personal life, I sympathize. That's why I bought this book in the first place, before I knew what misery really was.

If you're interested, read her books. Not just 84, Charing Cross Road, although you should certainly start there – it's probably her most appealing book. Start there, and then read The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street and Q's Legacy. If you're still hungry, read Apple of My Eye, Letter From New York, and (for a look at her earlier life and adventures) Underfoot in Show Business.

Pastore insists that these accounts are fictionalized to the point of actually being fiction. He offers no evidence for this claim, and I'm not finding him a terribly credible witness at this point. Hanff herself admits that she edited and rewrote the travel diary that became the core of Duchess, but what of it? If Hanff tightened things up and made them funnier in order to please her readers, that's fine with me. If I want an exact account of something, I'll read court documents. I'd rather read Hanff.

If you still want more information about Hanff – and want to see what she looks like, given how famously unenthusiastic she was about her own looks, to the point of reportedly refusing to look at the painting of herself a portrait-artist begged permission to create in England – go read the obituary of her in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/1997/04/11/arts/helene-hanff-wry-epistler-of-84-charing-dies-at-80.html

Read the lovely account written by James Roose Evans, who adapted 84 into a play:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-helene-hanff-1267169.html

But don't read this book.

This book is an atrocity that may just signal the end times. It brings the kind of pain that Anastasia Steele would flee with screams of genuine terror.

I bought this book because I was excited to see what I assumed was an actual biography of a writer I'd fallen in love with. I finished reading it because I finish reading books I've paid for. In this case, that means I paid twice for the mistake I made purchasing this book.

For heaven's sake, don't follow my sorry example.