The great Donna Seaman of Booklist writes:
[Starred Review] Also a Poet: Frank O'Hara, My Father, and Me
By Ada Calhoun.
June 2022. 272p. Grove, $27 (9780802159786). 818.
REVIEW. First published May 1, 2022 (Booklist).
Calhoun (Why We Can’t Sleep, 2020) has shared some aspects of her bohemian childhood in her previous books, especially in her vital work of New York City history, St. Marks Is Dead (2015). Here, in this fluidly morphing, magnetically candid chronicle, she ends up scrutinizing her often bewildering relationship with her father, the New Yorker art critic and poet Peter Schjeldahl (Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light, 2019). When Calhoun discovered recorded interviews her father conducted with people who knew the poet Frank O’Hara, whom Schjeldahl and his peers revered, she learned that he intended to write a biography until O’Hara’s younger sister, Maureen, stood in the way. Discouraged, the habitually reckless Schjeldahl abandoned the project. Believing herself to be his opposite—reliable, productive, determined—Calhoun decides to complete the project. She dives in, sharing riveting excerpts from the tapes, profiling each interviewee, and bringing O’Hara into ever-sharper focus. But each foray resurrects distressing memories; she runs into the same unbreachable fortress surrounding the O’Hara archive; and she is assailed by a staggering run of emergencies, from cancer to a fire to COVID-19. Ultimately, Calhoun offers an arresting and provocative carousel of family dynamics, creative paradoxes, literary history, unnerving dilemmas, thorny questions of inheritance and legacy, wry humor, and love.— Donna Seaman