Donald Newlove is the author of Leo and Theodore and The Drunks, novels published by Saturday Review Press in 1973 and '74, respectively, and republished together in paperback as Sweet Adversity by Avon Books in '78. These works tell the story of alcoholic Siamese twins who play jazz in trad bands in the '30s, then arrive on the Lower East Side of New York in the early '60s. One of the two -- Theodore, who also stutters and walks with canes -- decides to enter a 12 step program and sober up.
Hilarious, gut-wrenching, verbally lyrical and very well received when they first were issued, these books are now out of print and rather hard to find, as are Newlove's other novels: The Painter Gabriel, Eternal Life, Curanne Trueheart, and his "life study" Those Drinking Days: Myself and Other Writers. His celebration of dialogue from novels and the movies, Invented Voices is still available (from Henry Holt); he's also written First Paragraphs, selected from world literature, and Painted Paragraphs, about descriptive prose.
Newlove lives in Greenwich Village -- within sight of the Jefferson Market tower that's on the cover of Eternal Life. On the day of the JJA on-line chat he was on Cape Cod -- but anyway, he said he was reluctant to go on-line, that he's not been impressed by the level of discourse and fears being further distracted from his main activity, writing. But he didn't mind if I wrote up some notes.
"I can only think of about three examples of writing that works as music," Newlove said over the phone. "Kerouac's The Subterraneans reads like bop prose, which proves to be pretty hard to sustain. The first three or four pages of it sound like Lester Young playing saxophone -- the long run-on sentences. Of course Kerouac was conscious of that.
"Then there's an excerpt from Joyce, the chapter in Ulysses that begins 'Bronze by gold steely ringing." It's about a waitress in the window of a cafe, who hears a horse going by; that phrase describes the hoof irons. There's also the novel Napoleon Symphony, by Anthony Burgess: that imitates music. But a reader's interest in such imitation drops almost instantly.
"With Joyce, you go along with it for the many rewards. With Jack -- well, I was there when it was published, so the novelty of it and immediacy kept me interested. But he only created one character, Dean Moriarity in On The Road, and that was it. None of his other books have a Dean Moriarity, you know?
"Maybe giving the sense of music is easier in poetry. . . Vachel Lindsay's 'The Congo,' with the stanza endings 'boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM!' -- that's nice! I memorized that when I was in ninth grade."
Newlove has just finished revisions on his next novel, The Wolf Who Swallowed The Sun, which isn't yet sold. Is he still involved with jazz? Sure! He also keeps his trumpet at hand -- and played a few bars of pure melody over the phone at the end of our conversation. -- Howard Mandel