When George Ticknor’s Life of William Hickling Prescott was published in 1864, it received rapturous notices, and reviewers were quick to point out that the long-standing friendship between Prescott and Ticknor made the latter an ideal Boswell. Sheila Heti, whose debut short story collection, The Middle Stories, was published in this country by McSweeney’s, has pulled this obscure leaf from the literary archives and fashioned a mordantly funny anti-history; a pungent and hilarious study of bitterness and promise unfulfilled.
As a fretful Ticknor navigates his way through the rain-soaked streets of Boston to Prescott’s house (“But I am not a late man. I hate to be late.”), he recalls his decidedly one-sided lifelong friendship with his great subject, a friendship that Heti has estranged from its factual moorings. Unlike the real-life Ticknor, this one is an embittered also-ran, full of plans and intentions never realized — coveting his friend’s wife, writing letters that never get answered, working on essays destined to be rejected — always alive to the fashionable whispers behind his back.
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