I just finished reading the novel Friday's at Enrico's by Don Carpenter, with editing by noted contemporary novelist Jonathan Lethem. This is the first book I've read by Carpenter, who wrote novels from 1965 up until his death in 1995. The back story is that Carpenter wrote this book while trying to grapple with the death of his close friend Richard Brautigan, but this novel quickly generates its own distinct energy. The book is about writers and how they deal with the process and challenges of writing. Most of the first half of the book is set in Portland, where several local writers are in the early stages of trying to make it as writers of novels or short stories.
Dick Dubonet has just sold his first story to Playboy and is admired by the local writers for his breakthrough. He has fallen in love with Linda, who knows the leading lights of the San Francisco Beat community and is well connected in the publishing industry. Charlie, a Korean war veteran, has just moved up to the area with his wife Jaime; they are both writers, but write in different styles. Charlie gets a job teaching writing and meets a young man named Stan who has no formal education, but wants to write stories and get away from his shadow life as a burglar.
Charlie tries to help Stan by having Dick Dubonet read a story Stan wrote. Dick doesn't think much of it, but Linda loves it and helps Stan by re-typing it to fix grammar and by making a few edits. The writers and Linda all get to know each other and we watch as they push themselves to get better with mixed results.
This novel digs deep into the minds of writers as they fight to master their craft and navigate between the shoals of the literary and commercial worlds of writing. The pressures get to some of the writers and we spend a lot of time with them in various bars and cafes.
The second half of the book shifts into the Bay area, where Charlie and Jaime eventually settled. In time, most of the characters from the Portland crowd show up again in later scenes -- years older, but still wrestling with many of the same demons.
I liked this book a lot. It's one of the more honest books I've read about the lonely journey of unknown writers as they struggle to learn their craft and then shift into the challenging task of marketing their work. Even though it's set in periods going as far back as the fifties, the characters feel fresh. Their quests to get published remind me of the experiences I've had as an aspiring writer. I also like the depiction of this informal Portland writers community and the mix of cameraderie and rivalry as each of these writers tries to find their way.