The Many Lives of Nathan Childers
The Many Lives of Nathan Childers, Dabney Prood, Varinoma Press, San Luis Obispo, 1998, paperback
This book is, or may be, the definitive biography of that remarkable man of letters, Nathan Childers. Childers is a man of essential contradictions both in his literary and his personal life. It is quite inexplicable that the same man could have written The Gods Hate Nebraska, one of the worst pieces of SF hackwork ever written, and The Beekeeper’s Daughter, easily one of the finest and most sensitive novels of this century. It passes comprehension that the same poet could have the transcendently moving pastoral poetry that appears in The Brookings, South Dakota Sheepherders Gazette and the utterly pedestrian Proletarian Fairy Tales.
At a more mundane level, the details of his personal life are both incomprehensible and contradictory. For many years he was the Editor in Chief at Biodegradable Press, headquartered in Lower Oshkosh Falls, Michigan. At the same time he was a guest lecturer in three different Californian universities. This would be possible were it not that it is well known that he was also running guns in Afghanistan for the CIA at the same time, all of which is a remarkable feat for a habitue of the Parisian Cafes.
His romantic life is likewise confusing. He is, by his own account, a confirmed bachelor with two ex wives and three children (none by his ex wives.) One does not, perhaps, place too much credence in his professed hopeless unrequited love for Peaches LaRue, the pride and glory of the Golden West Saloon, but his long standing and thoroughly scandalous affair with Lorraine DuChamp has been extensively documented in the London tabloids.
It would be impossible to compose a coherent account of Childers’ life and Ms. Prood wisely does not try to do so; she accepts the contradictions as they are. She follows the main threads, indicating where they are well documented and where elements of doubt exist. At times she confesses doubts as to the veracity of anything that she writing except for the frankly fictional anecdotes that she invents. It is regrettable that she did not indicate which anecdotes were frankly fictional; however it probably doesn’t matter.
Her attempts to trace the literary influences in Childers’ work probably have nothing to do whatever influences may exist but they are as close to the truth as any other account would be. The one exception may be his notorious distaste for Byron. Legend has it that when he first read a copy of Byron’s poetry he hurled it across the room and then, not content with that, shredded the book and dissolved it in a vat of sulfuric acid. This may be legend but it does capture the vigor of his critical disdain.
It would be ironic were it not so naturally fitting that the definitive biography of Nathan Childers should be written by a character from one of his own novels.
I sent a copy of this review to Dr. Childers with the comment, “There, I am quite done with you.” to which I received the reply, “Ah, but I am not done with you.”
This page was last updated July 8, 1998.