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An Erotic Novel


How we lost the right to feel.


Go to the beach.


A Literary Love Affair

 

 

 Los Angeles Times, June 16, 1972,

RECORD by Jules Siegel (Straight Arrow)

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 telling anecdotes. 

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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