Los Angeles Times,
June 16, 1972,
RECORD by Jules Siegel (Straight
By TOM NOLAN
JULES SIEGEL makes an implicitly acknowledged
bid here for the literary fame and serious recognition he so obviously
feels entitled to; attention which, judging from the rich prose
exhibited in his first book, he does indeed richly deserve. He
presents a collection of short stories, essays, magazine articles
and a fragment of a novel written over the past eight years. Such
a mixed bag of work assembled between two covers is a daring (one
might say grandstand ploy), reminiscent of Norman Mailer's ground-breaking
Advertisements for Myself.
Like that anthology
and its sequels, Record is partly an exercise in self-aggrandizement,
with the writer granting himself the expected indulgences. But
with Record, as with Mailer's collections, the occasional inessential
piece is more than compensated for by the impressive strength
of the rest of what's on display.
Siegel emerges from
the relative obscurity of Playboy, Esquire and New American
Review as a strong, original, disturbing and compelling author.
As a journalist, he chronicles with chilling insight the chaos
of an era coming down from LSD in which politicians and rock musicians
compete for the same disillusioned and dangerous crowds, and where
seemingly idyllic communes are seen to be open-air sanitariums,
rest camps for the damaged and rootless refugees of America.
This is some of the
finest journalism around, crackling with significant leaps and
As a fictionist and
essayist, Siegel fashions tales of cardinal emotions that spring
from inescapable facts and duties of life. In both genres, he
is precise and uncompromising in spelling out his exacting visions.
But it is in the fiction and serious essays written with the drama
of short stories, composed without thought of exigencies governing
the popular press, that Siegel exhibits his real gift. Here he
is at his best, and at his best he is dazzling.
"Family Secrets" is an amazing portrait
of the author's father, "a warm, decent, soft-spoken man
who had once done eight years for armed robbery in Dannemora,
a maximum-security prison for incorrigibles" With love and
chilling candor, Siegel recalls the wisdom and despair of his
past and his parents' past with autobiographical honesty and drama,
pride and muted horror that can realistically be compared with
the best qualities found in the works of Isaac Babel.
To discover Record
is to discover a fresh, astonishing, exasperating writer who cannot
possibly leave you indifferent. Siegel swoops in a pendulum parabola
from bleak pits of psychic despair to elevated states of clarity
and ecstasy, in pages describing simply and exactly a timeless
range of human emotion induced by life's costs and compensations.
This is at least as impressive
a debut volume as Phillip Roth's Goodbye Columbus. It is
the sort of book with which a reputation is made.
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