Walking with Hank
Marco Petrella, Indipendent bookshop – IG @rufuswainleft
Text Nicola Manuppelli
6 – HANK AND THE INDEPENDENT BOOKSHOPS
In our tours, sometimes Hank and I like to sneak into some independent bookshops.
This is how it goes – when we finish all the bookshops in the neighborhood, we jump on a train and go to see others. Annie does not always follow us. In her opinion, ours is a fixation.
Hank is not a champion of independent bookshops. He likes some and some others not so much. He also likes some bookstore chains. The fact is that it depends on the bookseller. If he manages to make some vanilla biscuits, Hank is always willing to think well of a bookshop.
In New York there is a nice old man named Otto Penzler and who owns a bookshop called The Mysterious Bookshop which is also his home. It is an independent bookstore, of course, and it is specialised in what we call ‘gialli’ – crime novels – (why do we call them in this way? Because they were published with yellow covers).
In Penzler’s bookshop you can find the largest collection in the world of books about Sherlock Holmes. Not only. The bookstore also serves as a publishing house and publishes a famous series of ‘gialli’ stories, which in the middle of the plot have a book or a bookshop. These books bear the signature of Penzler’s friends, such as the tireless Joyce Carol Oates and John Connolly.
Penzler also takes care of a series of anthologies, among which the most prestigious are the Best American mistery Stories that have come out in Italy with various titles, often in the Gialli Mondadori. It works like this: Penzler collects, helped by friends, most of the mistery stories published in the United States during the year, he makes a small selection and then proceeds to make another selection with an author established in the genre. Among Penzler’s fantastic writers there are Scott Turow, James Ellroy, Stephen King, George Pelecanos (why did they stop publishing his works in Italy?), Jeffrey Deaver, Laura Lippman and many others. And there are also anthologies on noir, on the pulp and on the history of these genres. Hundreds and hundreds of stories. Sometimes real gems.
For example, the anthology The Best American Noir of the Century, edited by Penzler and Ellroy and released in 2010. The anthology starts with an introduction by Ellroy on why the noir is different from the thriller (you do not know why, then, in Italian edition, the book has been released with the title Millennium Thriller).
Among the names chosen by the two, you will find several interesting ones, especially the less known ones. There is the story Speroni by Tod Robbins from which the movie Freaks was taken (the story is from 1923 and it opens the anthology) and then James Cain, Steve Fisher (who also wrote a very nice novel, I Wake Up Screaming, also this became a movie) and MacKinlay Kantor.
Who is Kantor? Nowadays his name is not very well known, but he wrote a novel about the civil war, Andersonville, so beautiful that it won a Pulitzer. The fact is that, after the award, Kantor was just going around bragging. He was the best, really, he was the best. While living in Siesta Key, Florida, Kantor began attending a group of authors that can be found every day at the PlazaRestaurant. Among these, there was John MacDonald, who was churning out thrillers all the time and with some success. Kantor, however, teased him and told him that his novels were scanty, newsstand stuff, which he would never have won a prize nor he would have gone in the standings.
He basically said to him, «You’re a Harmony writer! Only with a little more tension.»
One day MacDonald blurted out. He could not take the bloody guy anymore.
«Can we bet – he said – that in three months I write a book that ranks directly in the standings, it makes me win a lot of prizes and more. Become a movie and make me immortal more than you?»
«Ah, ah!» replied MacKinlay Kantor.
Red in the face, MacDonald returned home and in three months he threw down a novel called The Executioners.
It was 1957. The novel immediately went into the standings and MacDonald also began to receive some critical appreciation. One day, while traveling, Gregory Peck (who was a great reader) took the book from a stall and he read it on the train.
«Well, it could be a great movie», he thought.
So it was. In 1962 The Executioners became the famous Cape Fear, still one of the most celebrated movies of the genre, and with a scary Robert Mitchum.
Also in Italy there are many independent bookshops with passionate booksellers. If, for example, I want to talk a bit of authors like MacDonald, Hank and I jump on the train and go to Rome, where in Campo dei Fiori there is the Fahrenheit bookstore, with a lot of new and used books, perfumes made with pages of the macerated books and Angelo, the bookseller who knows everything about the noir 1950s. For the occasion Hank wears the deerstalker, the Sherlock Holmes’ hat with ears.
In Barzanò, Brianza, there is an independent bookshop that is bigger than a bookstore chain and more welcoming than a Christmas evening in a book by Dickens. If you go there in winter, when it gets dark a little earlier, when you get there you will see lots of lights. The bookshop literally illuminates the city. It is called Peregolibri and it is managed by Marta Perego and her wonderful assistants, who are a bit like Santa’s elves. Inside there is an infinite number of beautiful things, not just books. The key word is beauty. With Marta you can talk about American literature but also about life. It is a true bookseller, of those with a burning passion. She and her daughter Carlotta have a rag dog called Tanta Lou, like the dog from one of my books. Needless to say, Hank is madly in love with it.
Sometimes the bookshops in the province are a real wonder. To stay in Lombardy, try to go to Legnano, where there is the Nuova Terra bookshop, and also here a quantity of unimaginable volumes, crammed for two whole floors, the booksellers Peo and Fiorella, and their new assistant Matteo, who can literally keep you hours talking about Larry McMurtry. If you think that the booksellers and bookshops of the past have disappeared, here you can find a shop that has remained intact like a jewel.
In Milan, there is the Trittico bookshop, in the Sant’Ambrogio area. Now there is a speech to do. Not all bookshops open to survive. Sometimes there are very rich people who open them only as a hobby and then they get tired. Sometimes even publishers open in this way. In Milan, there are several of these hobby bookstores. If there is one thing missing in all this, it is passion. Those who must live on their work, often try to put as much as possible on it. This is the case of Trittico, where Pietro and Rosy change the shop window every day and so you can magically see all the news. Pietro loves Carlotto’s books and philosophy, Rosy can tell you about any novel in circulation, she is a real war machine. And then, there is a children’s department where Hank loves to hide and I despair to find him again.
In Genoa there is the bookshop I Limoni, which is inspired by a verse by Montale, and it is very poetic, as well as its founder Francesca, who loves beautiful books and the sea. You can take a book and then go down to the port to go and read a little and then watch the manatees at the Aquarium.
There are also bookstore chains with great booksellers, I think of Emanuele, Mondadori in Piacenza and Vittorio and Katia for Feltrinelli in Milan. And I certainly forget a lot of other good booksellers, independent and not.
The fact is that it is from the booksellers that a shop depends, and independent and dependent ones is only a fictitious subdivision. There are independent bookshops that resemble each other and look like bookstore chains, even worse, because they often select a certain type of audience and reader and make it so that maybe a fan of Fifty Shades of Grey or a thirteen-years-old boy still uncertain with his reading tastes, feel uncomfortable in that place. They often aim at the forty-year-old reader with refined tastes but not particularly willing to risk and at the child reader, because well, that is a literature that always pulls. Then they bind to some publishers and exclude others, regardless of titles and authors. Sometimes they have a cafeteria and they focus a lot on food, but you cannot find a book by Chandler or Grisham.
Hank and I do not really like these bookstores, perhaps because we like Grisham, or perhaps because we love literature as a popular concept and not as an elite one.
On the contrary, we like bookstores with massed books, booksellers full of passion and who often talk to you about an abstruse book, in whose eyes there is no desire for war or the pride of being independent, but the simple love to get lost in pages.
Books should not be a boast or a medal to be pinned to your chest, but a distraction for our imagination, a pleasant, welcoming and well-lit place.
Other bookshops, the ones that Hank and I love, are like houses. And sometimes we like to take the train to get lost in their walls.
5 – Fitzgerald in Maserati
Speaking of Sundays and walks. My dog Hank loves Sunday because Annie and I often take him out for the whole morning and we stop to have breakfast at Galetti, which is one of those old cafes with slightly retro furniture, dark colors, impressive chandeliers and a small sitting room where old lovers of Agatha Christie’s books stop to discuss the last (fake) murder.
At the park, Annie and I met one of these old ladies, she had a dog too, named Willis.
«It was my husband’s dog» she told us. «I’ve never liked dogs. We had a fight when he brought him home. In three we were too many. Then I discovered that Willis can stay in the yard and so I thought that in two, me and a dog, would have been better than with poor Mario.»
She gave us a strange glance and looked at Willis who seemed to smile. Then she went away.
«Do you think she killed him?» I asked Annie.
«Maybe» she replied, not worried at all.
I stared at Hank.
«Maybe we give him few cookies», I said.
In the park there was already a trace of the autumn breeze and that calm and coolness that always reminds me of one of my favorite poems, written by the Irish author William Butler Yeats, The Wild Swans at Coole. It speaks of the passage of time and how we link ourselves to certain places. The initial verses are wonderful.
The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.
It is the poem with which Yeats announced the end of his youth and the arrival of a new season.
Leaving the park we are ‘attacked’ by a group of children and adults just coming out of the theater. Women with absurd evening dresses, men so tight and tanned that you are afraid the skin can come off their faces like papier-mâché. Hank begins to hop. He is spoiled. Usually children give him a warm welcome.
But these children ignore him and so do their mothers. Or better still, one starts screaming when Hank approaches her leg.
Shortly thereafter, we see women and children stopping in front of a Maserati. It is not theirs, as initially supposed, but they are fascinated by it.
«Look how it is beautiful. It seems to talk!» one of the women says to her son.
The child caresses the Maserati.
Hank approaches his leg, but he ignores him.
«No pampering for you here» I tell Hank, and I walk away with him and Annie.
I am reminded of the chandeliers in the cafeteria and Ireland and Oscar Wilde, and then amid all this flow of thoughts, I am reminded of Francis Scott Fitzgerald and his ‘Great Gatsby’.
I happened to translate it a few years ago, as well as other works of his. Fitz is like a big brother for me. I think we would have gotten plastered together. I love everything he wrote. He is a subtle, shining author, where there is always a double reading. He was fascinated by the chandeliers too and, if it had happened to him, he would probably have been also by the Maserati. But then, (and for this, he is much more a “tough” person than Hemingway) the nausea and irony followed for all that world. There is a scene that I think is a milestone in the history of American literature. It is when, after Gatsby’s death, his friend Nick meets Tom Buchanan, the ‘real’ man whom Daisy has chosen instead of Gatsby. The novel’s hero came from “outside”, he did not belong to the world of Daisy and Tom, he only looked at it like me and Annie and Hank can watch those shimmering chandeliers. As Fitzgerald looked at the wealth he had obtained, but without really possessing it. As the Irish Oscar Wilde looked at London. And Fitzgerald, who is already disillusioned about that dream, does not use an aggressive or offensive adjective to describe those people, those who neglect a dog to caress a Maserati. No. My friend Fitz uses, as always, the right word: indifferent.
Tom and Daisy were indifferent people. They demolished things and people and then withdrew into their money or their absolute vagueness, or whatever it was that held them together, and let other people put back the mess they had made…
It is as if this scene was at the center of American literature. Under it there is all popular literature and above all those cool books, perfect for the New Yorker, of which to caress the covers as they did with the Maserati. Forgetting about dogs and people.
It was 1925 when The Great Gatsby came out and sometimes it still seems today.
4 – Edgar Lee Masters has a son
On Sunday morning, if we are not travelling somewhere, I and Annie go out with Hank to have breakfast in the bar overlooking Piazza Cavalli. Piacenza is a small town for a man like me, who has always lived in Milan, dreaming of flying to New York, but there are some aspects I am starting to appreciate. Among these, the atmosphere of festive days. As if the ritual of rest from work was underlined and you now notice some little pleasures which you had forgotten: a coffee at a small table in the open, a chat with the newsagent, recognizing a face at the market place.
The small town – the small village – is enchanting from the point of view of writing. I have many friends who moved to the outskirts for writing. We phone and praised each other for our new achievements.
«I am not cut out for writing Blade Runner!» I heard myself exclaiming one day in the grip of euphoria.
We create imaginary towns and we set our stories there.
Literature of the provinces todays is among the most interesting in the United States. In there I come across loads of authors who I propose to publishing houses. Many of them are following the great courses of creative writing and then they look for a remote place. I often talk about this with them.
When I was in Pittsburgh, in the old house of the writer Chuck Kinder (in Squirrel Hill, in the same house which was inhabited by Willa Cather in the old days), one evening a party was held expressly for me (one of the famous parties of the American writers).
There were many people from Pittsburgh’s publishing world, writers and editors. Only Stewart O’Nan was missing, at that time he was busy in writing a novel about Fitzgerald in Hollywood (if you have the chance, read it). As usual we drank, and I was chatting with Robert Peluso, who has established a little publishing house in town, when he suddenly turned to a rather old man who had just arrived.
«You know who is that man?» he told me.
«Do you remember Edgar Lee Masters, the author of Spoon River? He’s his son».
I rolled my eyes and he stopped me immediately.
«Do not talk him about his father. He hates him ».
In fact, I was just rolling them because I did not know that Masters had a son and that he was still alive.
I passed some time talking with the writer Aubrey Hirsch and finally Chuck called me and introduced me to Hilary Masters. His wife was with him, the writer Kathleen George.
Hilary (who died a few years later, in 2015) was an amazing writer of memoir, whose most famous book is perhaps Last Stands. The novel mainly tells the memories of when Hilary was a little boy and divided himself amidst the house of his maternal grandparents and the house of his father, famous and old, with his young wife. Besides Edgar’s portrait, the one of his grandfather is stunning. Despite the strictness of his father, Hilary can’t help accepting its effect. Both tell about America made of little things, the suburbs, envies, everyday life. A small world, where a celebration Sunday turns into a universe.
Hilary was very kind with me. We shook our hands and talked. In the hand, he even spilled out something about his father, but this remains a secret.
When I was back home, this Sunday, I touched upon these thoughts about life in small towns with Annie.
«Piacenza is not a small town», she told me, resentful. «You writers always work with imagination».
Then, we got the roast chicken we bought at the grill by our house and we laid the table, while we were watching at the plants outside the window and we understood that those were the last days of summer.
3 – THE BURROUGHS’ MARRIAGE
This is short.
When Annie and I got married, last March, we decided to organise a double party: lunch for relatives and dinner with friends. The wedding was celebrated in the Municipality and the first part of the day had been quite sober. Around four o’clock, however, when the first friends started to arrive, we were both already exhausted.
«I want to drink», Annie told me.
We were in a farmhouse outside of Piacenza and we had brought several bottles of a local red wine called Apogeo. So we started drinking. Then the friends arrived and joined us, as expected.
When you write and you have friends, writers or artists, you know how this kind of thing goes. Claudio Marinaccio, a writer from Turin, arrived and immediately told me: «Where’s the wine?» Then, my brother came, who is a cartoonist with the nickname of Hurricane, and said: «Nothing to drink?». Nobody has deigned to look at the wedding favors. The musician and singer-songwriter Claudio Sanfilippo arrived and said: «The favors are great. Is the wine down there?»
So we got drunk.
For the occasion I wore a Borsalino that then hung on my head in a strange way. Annie drank from a bottle of whisky. Claudio Sanfilippo played and Claudio Marinaccio sang. I also received the wishes of the American writers: «Drink for us!»
At one point I was almost unconscious on the ground, my brother, drunk like me, tried to make me drink mauve to make me pass the nausea, other people danced on the tables, the owner of the farm was calling the police.
Claudio M. sat next to me satisfied and said: «It looks like the marriage of William Burroughs».
I would have liked to be there at W. Burroughs’ wedding, even if a true marriage of the writer of Naked Lunch has never been there.
In 1937, when he was twenty-three and he was in Europe studying medicine, Burroughs married a Jewish girl named Ilse Klapper. Burroughs was a homosexual. For this he was seen as the black sheep of the family, belonging to a high class of St. Louis in Missouri.
His parents continued to spend money to keep him away and in the hope that their son would return to the ranks, but William did not want to know.
Although homosexual, Burroughs married Ilse to save her from the Nazi persecution and get her a visa for the United States. Arrived overseas, the two divorced. Shortly thereafter, Burroughs cut off the tip of a little finger to impress a man he had fallen in love with. All this became material also of one of his first stories The finger.
The second marriage of Burroughs, so to speak, was the famous relationship with Joan Vollmer. A sort of factual union. In 1944, when the war was still underway, Burroughs had moved to live in the apartment that Joan shared with Edie Parker, Jack Kerouac’s first wife. They were in full Beat Generation. Even the marriage between Edie and Jack would be a good story to tell, because Jack was in jail as an accomplice in the murder of David Kammerer (the episode is told by Burroughs and Kerouac in the four-handed novel And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks) and, well, since the father refused to pay him the bail, Jack had to be escorted by two NYPD investigators just the time to celebrate the wedding. The marriage was then canceled in 1948, but I digress.
Returning to Burroughs: he had gone to live in Joan’s house, where there were also Jack and Edie and many other beats that made this a place of reference. «Let’s go to Joan!» said all the tramps that Jack crossed.
They were on drugs and Burroughs himself went to push at Greenwich. At the time Joan Vollmer was still married to a policeman and had a daughter, but when she started using benzedrine and attend the future beats, her husband applied for a divorce and ran out. So Ginsberg and also Kerouac convinced Burroughs that Joan was the ideal woman for him.
While Burroughs was in Mexico to get a permanent divorce from Ilse, Joan suffered from psychic disorders and was hospitalised. Burroughs returned, released her and asked her to marry him. Several complications made it so that marriage was never officially formalised. They had a son, William Burroughs Jr., and once they were even reported by the police for being caught in having sex in the car.
In 1951 their story ended tragically. The official version said that both in the grip of alcohol, were playing as William Tell. Burroughs accidentally shot Joan Vollmer on the head.
And so, the only true marriage of William Burroughs remains mine.
2 – HANK AND ELEVATORS
I find myself innocently involved into a little family dispute. Annie is terrified by elevators, especially the one in our building, small and narrow and squeaky like in Angel Heart. While Hank cannot stand stairs and stops dead on the landing, awaiting to see the green light of the elevator. And since Annie balks at taking it with us, I am the Elevator Boy for Hank. And she complains because she has to practise scales alone.
«You are both egoists! » she tells us.
One Monday morning, I am stuck with shopping bags and Hank in this shaky rattletrap. I press the button many times, but it seems that nobody is in the building. There are just three floors, and the two downstairs flats are occupied by teachers that now are at work. Annie is at work as well. And there’s no signal on my phone.
I stare at Hank, it’s watching the shopping bags. It seems quiet.
And then, all the elevators of the American literature come to my mind. When I worked as a waiter at caffè Litta in corso Magenta in Milan, I often had to deliver drinks at some buildings where there were those enormous and opulent elevators which reminded me those described by Saul Bellow and Henry Roth and those two big cities I often daydreamt about: Chicago and New York.
Henry Roth is the less famous, but he has been my favourite author for a long time. He wrote a novel in 1934, when he was just twenty-eight, with positive write-ups and considerable sales. The book was entitled Call It Sleep and it remained at book shops for some years. Even at that time, titles died out soon. At the moment of writing the second novel, Roth suddenly stopped. Someone says he was writing about Italian dockers and they beat him up. Someone says he was led to gradual mutism due to an incestuous relationship with his sister. The well-known writer’s block! The fact is that he suddenly disappeared, and he was forgotten.
In the Sixties, some of the most influential American critics were asked to elect the American book of the century and, bang! Roth’s book, already ignored by everybody, was the only one to be selected twice, by Alfred Kazin and Leslie Fiedler. Result: the book was reprinted in 1964, regarded as one of the masterpieces of the time and more than one million copies were sold. The author was considered one of the fathers of Hebrew-American literature.
But what had become of Henry Roth? He became a duck-farmer, after having tried a myriad of jobs, and he hated the book he had written. In fact, he took this re-discovery badly. «That book does not represent me» he said. «I was inspired by Joyce and I cannot stand Joyce. It is not true, it is not real!»
With his wife he moved to Albuquerque, in New Mexico (close to D.H. Lawrence’s places), to live in a caravan. His wife was an ex-pianist. Roth loved this woman infinitely. In order to counter his image reflected by the first book, Roth slowly get back to writing. A river of words, thousands and thousands of pages. The result was a masterpiece, which still today is not enough appreciated, Mercy Of A Rude Stream, a verse of Shakespeare whose initials form the word MORS). The book should have been issued after his death, as Roth disclosed too much about himself and his feelings, but after Muriel passed away, HR decided to publish the first two volumes.
When he died, other two volumes were published, and the fifth one An American Type, more recently.
Hundreds pages are still unread.
What does Mercy Of A Rude Stream represent? It is a book about life, which is observed backwards, about its turning points, about a kid grown up in a Jewish quarter who makes some mistakes and finds himself in the middle of a stream where it is hard to make choices. This book is impetuous like a river. It is like Huckleberry Finn, yet full of passion and compassion for life. This boy learns about friendship, work, sex; he steals at school, he sells tram tickets and nuts at the stadiums, he learns about love for poetry. And, of course, he takes so many lifts.
Those elevators, in New York, are the symbols of huge buildings, of skyscrapers; they take you aloft towards the sky-blue.
I read Henry Roth when I was a waiter, and every time I took a lift I dreamt of finding myself into one of those buildings in New York.
Exactly: a book about the creators of elevators would be interesting. Did you know that higher skyscrapers could be built thanks to elevators? It is one of the symbol of American literature, from Fitzgerald to our times.
Then, for Hank and me it was not a problem to stop in there a little longer waiting for someone to find us, we had some breadsticks and dreamt about the thousand possible buildings we could have come out from our lift: the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the Flatiron; and all those art-deco decorations, and King Kong and the missing floors (like the number 13).
When Annie arrived with the elevator technician, she was pale.
Hank stretched its paws and left the cubicle. We were still at the ground floor. It stared at me.
«And now, how can we go up?» I told Annie.
1 – HANK, JAWS AND PETER BENCHLEY
Two days ago, I received the first edition of Jaws by Peter Benchley. My old one – a Euroclub release bought from a second –hand market stall – had been literally devoured. The mysterious predator that dared challenging its more illustrious ‘buddy’ had been setting its sights on the book days before, pulling it out discreetly from the lower shelf of the bookcase, before dragging it into its den to champ on the edges. From that moment on, the book’s destiny had been written.
Hank (named after renowned singer Hank Williams) is a cross between a Maltese and a Shih Tzu. He is black and white and has been part of the family for a few weeks, after being rescued from a litter of mixed-bred puppies. He is currently enjoying his good luck, happily wagging his tail and devouring books.
The first he threw himself into was Stranger in A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. I have – or better, I had – two editions, one published by Club degli Editori and a more recent one by Fanucci, which includes the sections that been previously censored.
Born in Missouri at the end of the nineteenth century, Heinlein was one of the most significant writers in what has been defined as the humanization of science fiction by introducing a social context and such themes as looseness of morals and freedom of thought: his characters loved, suffered and made us think. For this reason, he was one of the first science fiction authors to rise the charts. If he weren’t for him, there would have been no Vonnegut and many others. And there would not be films like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, which brings us to Steven Spielberg and Jaws. And Hank, of course.
Benchley was his second victim.
Having caught Hank red-handed, I moved away the volume so that it did not suffer the same fate as Heinlein’s. But apparently Hank knows that I keep novels that have inspired films on the lower shelves and so the waiting game began. As soon as I left the room, Hank would start sniffing out the shelves for Jaws then he would strike.
«He completely devoured my copy of Jaws», I said Annie one evening over dinner. Hank was under the table looking at her with languishing eyes. My languishing gaze was less effective.
«It’s your fault for leaving the volume down there».
In the end, however, I must have moved her to pity as she ordered the first edition on Abebooks.
When the postman arrived, I opened the door and he started making a big fuss of Hank. That is how it is nowadays. I set the book on the penultimate shelf of the bookcase then went back chatting to the postman. If he has a spare moment, we sit down for a coffee or chat about old film noirs.
Whilst sitting, I heard a thud coming from the studio. Something black and white swooshed past the kitchen door, bringing to mind the shark’s fin of the Spielberg’s film.
I run to the room and my new copy, the wrapping still on, was lying on the floor, the mark of Hank’s paw on the front.
The postman burst into laughter.
«It must have been an animal rights protest», he claimed.
I did some research on Peter Benchley during the afternoon.
Jaws has been his biggest success. Before writing it, he was mostly known for being the grandson of Robert Benchley, one of the founders of Algonquin Round Table. Peter was also born in New York in the 1940s. Reporter and editor, he was a speechwriter for President Lyndon Johnson until he set his mind on becoming a writer. One day he pitched a couple of ideas to Doubleday publisher – a non-fiction book on pirates and a novel on a man-eating shark. The latter was inspired by a true story that had occurred on Long Island beach in 1960. Doubleday welcomed the second idea and paid Benchley an advance of $ 1000 in return for the first 100 pages, which Peter wrote inside a garage he had rented in New Jersey.
The book success meant that it was turned into a film leading to Benchley to become rich, thereby leaving behind the grandfather’s legacy.
It was Spielberg who directed the film adaptation, which is an updated version of his previous television film Duel based on a screenplay by Matheson (who also penned Jaws 3-D). And we are back to science fiction.
But, what happened to Benchley? He wrote several novels, some of which not very successfully, and, at a certain point, even regretted contributing to the creation of such a bad reputation for the ocean predator. He became an enthusiastic marine conservation activist arguing the importance of sharks in preserving the ocean ecosystems.
He died in 2006.
«It seems however that animals have not ceased being resentful towards him», said the postman when I told him about Benchley’s story.
«Yeah, it does seem like».
My new copy of the first edition of Jaws was already destroyed.
«Well, you can always buy Hank his own personal copy. A dog’s size bookcase».
«You reckon I should start thinking about titles Hank might enjoy?»
«Well, I have an idea».
Image courtesy of the artist