“Only an artist can interpret the meaning of life” – Novalis
An artist’s role is to take the thoughts and ideas born out of his creative mind and breathe life and expression into them. This role requires creativity in his ability to marry the non-conventional with the conventional to make something new. He is someone who can take a holistic view of an idea and interpret its true meaning to the whole world.
Author Tony Narducci’s book ‘In The Frightened Heart of Me: Tennessee Williams’s Last Year’ is a part memoir and largely a biography on Tennessee Williams’s last year. A providential meeting between Tennessee Williams and Tony Narducci takes place at a time when the famous playwright was on the decline of his career while Tony was struggling to choose between a creative and a business career. This book chronicles the last year in the life of Tennessee Williams with Tony Narducci and the many adventures they shared and the ones they couldn’t. Tennessee Williams whose real name was Tom wrote plays exploring human passion with an unflinching and iconoclastic candour, shattering conventional proprieties and transforming the American stage of his day. His works include the very famous, The Glass Menagerie, A streetcar named desire, Cat on a hot tin roof, Orpheus Descending, Sweet bird of youth, Night of the Iguana and the last staged play, A house not meant to stand. Tony Narducci’s narrative reveals the compassion and love he had for Tennessee Williams while also extrapolating the oddity and emotional complexity of such a relationship.
It has always been an interesting study to look at an artist’s life after fame and celebrity hood has taken over. How often the deadly mix of consumerism, media, popular culture, glamour and the star system transforms someone from just another person into an object of desire. Tennessee Williams was defied by thousands by people, fan of both his work and the image he presented to the outside world. In fact his popularity places him securely as America’s most famous and revered playwright and author. Known metaphors won’t be enough for this man as he has outstripped them of its use and new ones need to be invented to praise the genius behind the craft.
Tony Narducci’s book can be easily summarised as about two men trying to find happiness in their own way. Tony has written this book in such a way that it compliments and interjects with Tennessee’s famous plays, and this is reflected right from the title headings to his almost melancholic and brutally honest prose. The book title itself a line from the poem in the play, Night of the Iguana. Even though the author got to witness only the last year of Tennessee’s life he has brilliantly portrayed the popular culture idol living his grand life, flirting his way through the good things life had to offer. When you read more about what Tony has to say about Tennessee, you get the feeling that the maverick playwright never received his share of real love he so often brilliantly captured through his writing by creating memorable characters play with variations of this same emotion. You also get the feeling that Tennessee’s lifelong craving for affection and companionship was perhaps a reflection on his poor childhood bolstered by lack of proper parental guidance or even their mere presence.
It sucks you (no pun intended) into this different culture, a world within where perhaps you think anything is possible and this is partly because we are discussing such a larger than life figure and partly because Tony’s languid writing makes it read like a tragic romantic play written by the great man himself. Reading this book is like watching a private home video that a close aide of Tennessee has made. Honesty is the word that keeps popping up while writing this review because Tony’s work really is honest, sometimes bordering on naivety and he has maintained this style while discussing Tennessee’s as well as his own life.
The Frightened Heart of Me actually gives the reader a definite feel of a novel like narrative, bordering on a play with its impromptu life moments, a near sensuous atmosphere, and almost the sense of a classical Greek tragedy that looms through all the pages till the very end; the exquisite use of language is just an added bonus to make this truly a unique reading experience.
In the end Tennessee Williams comes across as a man who always had a smile and a laugh tucked away on him; for the few genuine moments he felt happiness and the rest of the time as a defence against the populace who all wanted to consume his celebrity status.
Paperback: 310 pages
Publisher: iUniverse (May 8, 2013)