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E S I r e AN A 1,1 F R many times he invokes the name of Mobile, he is less a Southern creature than a continental one. That he makes for Paris in his early twenties reinforces this impression. Similarly problematic is the classification of this book as a “biography.” It is an oral history, and should be distinguished from biography \(the category in which it was up for the Book Critics apparently laissez-faire style has here created a work which, though entertaining, neglects both the obligatory revelations, insight, and self-knowledge of autobiography, and the research, perspective, and scrutiny of traditional biography. This is understandable: A quick glance at her ebullient introduction reveals that this is really a work of tribute, and that, for her, How Great Eugene Is is an all-sufficient raison d’etre for the book. This conflict of intersuspiciously scrubbed-clean version of a life. It’s been suggested that this form of interview might echo and honor the Paris Review style of interviewing that is, with a focus on character and art, not prurient pryingbut for a work of this size and scope, the vast holes in Eugene’s narrative are unmistakable and disorienting. An example of one such void is the conspicuous absence of Eugene’s love life. In spite of insisting more than once that men need to “get their rocks off” every eight to twenty-four hours, he scrupulously withholds any mention of his own romantic or sexual involvements \(though he giddily divulges own life, he simply ignores the subject. Some may consider this a diplomatic choice, but there seems to be a certain dishonesty at work here. Eugene also fails to make any mention of race relations in Mobile, save fleeting references to the black nurse who raised him, a black cook at the five-and-dime, and “boboshillies… old Indian women from the backwoods” who dressed in white and sold medicinal roots and powders out of their aprons. And more strangely, Eugene painlessly discusses his passage from his parents’ hands \(who, apparently, went on with their lives as though they had no childhis father in international business and his mother, after a stint at a mental institution, living a “very happy life in New Orleans grandparents’ \(who died within three years of each other when Eugene was a Gayfer \(who also died “very unexpectThis traumatic set of plot points receives so little attention from Eugene as to slip under the reality radar, but, as they are the facts of his childhood, the manner in which he barely tells them should be noted. In these terms, the book fails to deliver the Whole Eugene. It makes the reader a participant in the happening and a diner at the table, but Eugene remains a performer, and the reader remains an audience. We don’t close the cover feeling like an intimate of the author’s, but rather, a guest at an excellent party whose host is so good at his role that he never departs from it. Eugene mentions in the epilogue that he has “several fireplaces full of regrets,” but we never hear what they are. If he ever cried, had a hangover or a crush, we, the readers of his biography, will never know about it. What ultimately makes the book worth reading is that Eugene is a great storyteller and a great influence. He’s an imperfect historian and it’s an imperfect biography, but what happens to the reader when it’s all over is something that ought to happen to everyone. Because Eugene credits his open attitude, rather than any inborn ability or intelligence, for his extraordinary life, he makes such a life seem accessible to the reader, and able to be translated into his or her reality. He explains his going from NewYork to Paris with no money or connections this way: “With my friends, I was going in their stead. They wanted to go. But they didn’t have theI don’t know what it is. It’s not courage. It’s not ambition. It’s the cat and monkey spirit. Let’s see what’s over there. Let’s just have a look.” This explanation might make little sense to a reasonable person, but then Eugene’s not just unreasonable: In this book, he’s also not a personhe’s a muse. The engaged reader will fall under his spell and may find him or herself undertaking more daring cooking projects, or taking the day off from work to go to the park. As for me, I leapt up from the couch in the middle of a chapter, opened all the windows in the house and painted an acrylic autumn tree on my living room wall. It’s clear that, for better or worse, Eugene inspired Clark in the extreme, and her intent in this work seems to be to pass on that experience to us which she does. This is a book to be carried around and read at lunch and on the bus in the morning. It should be savored and drawn out like the courses of an elaborate meal, experienced and drunk in. Because, all told, Eugene Walter is a poet and a character well worth knowing, even if, by the end, we don’t know him very well. Emily DePrang is an intern and writer for the Texas Observer. She is also enrolled at the University of Texas, where her parents believe she is attending classes. 6/7/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23