Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Alfred Chester

Hot off the press is Black Sparrow Books' Jamie is My Heart's Desire, cult-icon Alfred Chester's first novel. Chester was a curious fellow. He'd lost all the hair on his head and face from a case of childhood scarlet fever, and was one of the more charming and extraordinary literary men of his time. Fellow BSB author Edward Field wrote an excellent account of Chester in The Boston Review:

"...a doomed, self-destructive, but larger-than-life mad genius, much in the 'outlaw' genre of a Rimbaud, a Genet, or perhaps more pertinently, J.R. Ackerley, the English author famous for his multiple pickups of soldiers, sailors, and guardsmen. In a review, Alfred Chester was described as 'one of the most bizarre characters in an expatriate community (Tangier) where eccentricity was the norm,' and an article about him in a New York paper, recently, was headlined, 'A Charming Monster's Comeback.' "

One of the great figures in American literature at the start of the 1960's, Chester sunk into a solitary world of paranoia and delusion. One has to think of Ginsberg's "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked," written before Chester was lost to his disease, but a vision none the less. Field writes, "He heard voices in his head and exaggerated sounds from outside, making the children's taunting and banging on his fence [in Jerusalem, just before he died] unbearable." Field quotes a reviewer as once writing, "Circle his name with your red pencil. He out-writes such other and better known writers as Faulkner, Steinbeck, Jean Stafford and Saul Bellow."

You can find all the Black Sparrow Books titles by Chester HERE.

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