FRANK O'HARA, MY FATHER, AND ME
BY ADA CALHOUN ‧ RELEASE DATE: JUNE 14, 2022
Art critic Peter Schjeldahl's daughter takes a shot at finishing her father's derailed biography of Frank O'Hara and ends up writing a fascinating memoir.
Calhoun, author of the excellent St. Marks Is Dead, was looking for a childhood toy when she found the cassettes of her father's interviews with O'Hara's associates, recorded in preparation for writing an authorized biography in the late 1970s. Due to circumstances revealed gradually, support for the work was withdrawn by Maureen O'Hara, the poet's sister and executor. Calhoun began blithely, certain she could resurrect the project, but what ensues turns out to be both somewhat less and very much more. As her husband, Neal, puts it in one of many adept formulations, "this is two successive generations of writers trying to say something of value about a wonderful, talented, funny young man who wrote lovely poetry and died in a freak accident. What a series of dying stars all collapsing in on each other: your dad’s book, Maureen’s machinations, your dad’s poetry career, your attempts to win the scenario, your relationship with your dad, your relationship with Maureen." In Neal's view, even the difficulties are "amazing and beautiful,” and surprisingly, given the number of resentments and disillusions cataloged here (Larry Rivers, watch out!), he is right. Even the title of the book comes from the off-base headline on O'Hara's obituary in the New York Times: “EXHIBITIONS AIDE AT MODERN ART DIES—ALSO A POET.” The most powerful of the misapprehensions lies between the author and her father: "Perhaps my role as a writer who is not the best writer in my family is the cost of paying attention to my family," she submits, a typically loaded remark. One imagines her father, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2019 but has lived to read this work, is at last returning the long-withheld favor.
A wonderfully convoluted, catty, candid, and clever piece of work.
Pub Date: June 14, 2022
Page Count: 272
Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2022
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2022