Writers: “They’re Just Like Us”

The Village Voice‘s Vivek Narayanan reviews Rachel Cohen’s A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists.

The lightly fictionalizing hybrid set pieces Cohen uses can occasionally be repetitive, and her digressions on, say, photographic theory are hardly original. Nostalgia seems unavoidable her subjects are charismatic and beloved. Nevertheless, when her portraits are of figures that are clearly dear to either her or me, as the case may be, she can be very sympathetic and illuminating indeed. As Henry James once wrote to Sarah Orne Jewett, “The ‘historic’ novel is, for me, condemned, even in cases of labor as delicate as yours, to a fatal cheapness. . . . You may multiply the little facts that can be got from pictures & documents, relics & prints, as much as you like the real thing is almost impossible to do.” Similarly, these delicately wrought essays can be read as a kind of extended, irresistible People for the literary set.

Yeah, but where are the pictures?