Forgotten Books: The Disenchanted by Budd Schulberg
The passing of Budd Schulberg at age 95 is getting a lot of press, surprisingly so since we don't much value writers in America. While most of the comments are flattering, there are a few that ask us to remember that Schulberg was a "friendly witness" when brought in front of HUAC in the Fifties. It is claimed, without much proof, that his testimony put an old friend or two behind bars. I'm nobody's idea of hero so I have to say that I have no idea how I would've reacted if I'd been dragged in front of those slime ball bastards who ran the committee. Faced with the end of my career or even prison, I don't know what I would've done.
If Schulberg's decision to talk is open to question, his work certainly is not. What Makes Sammy Run. On The Waterfront. The Harder They Fall. The masterful and all but forgotten Wind Across The Everglades. A Face in The Crowd. Wonderful American writing.
One novel that never gets much mention is The Disenchanted. This is a novel about a writer whose fame was lost to alcohol and fashion. The great artist is now a Hollywood hack working on a screenplay with a young writer who worships him. The writing takes them back to their old college where the older writer goes through alcoholic breakdown.
If you know anything about F. Scott Fitzgerald, you know this story is true. Schulberg was assigned to work on a piece of dreck called "Winter Carnival" in the course of which he saw his idol come undone. There are two stories here, the tale of Fitzgerald's destructive love for Zelda and how the honor Schulberg felt for working with Fitzgerald turns to horror and pity (as pointed out in Amazon.com).
I've often wondered if this novel failed to find a large audience because the more literary reviewers just didn't think it was possible for a writer of popular fiction (however important and occasionally profound) to understand a genius of Fitzgerald's caliber.
But the book is so powerful in places it hurts to read it. Line for line it's the best writing Schulberg ever did. No less a figure than Anthony Burgess wrote an essay about it and called it a masterpiece.
Along with the novel, I'd also recommend Schulberg's lengthy essay on Fitzgerald. It tells us far more about the man than all but a few of the many biographies written about him. Below is the link.