Who were the Americans who followed Hemingway?
Early in the fifties another young generation of American expatriates in Paris became twenty-six years old, but they were not Sad Young Men, nor were they Lost; they were the witty, irreverent sons of a conquering nation and, though they came mostly from wealthy parents and had been graduated from Harvard or Yale, they seemed endlessly delighted in posing as paupers and dodging the bill collectors, possibly because it seemed challenging and distinguished them from American tourists, whom they despised, and also because it was another way of having fun with the French, who despised them…
They now live in New York. And most of the parties are held at George Plimpton’s large bachelor apartment on Seventy-second Street overlooking the East River, an apartment that is also the headquarters for what Elaine Tynan calls “The Quality Lit Set,” or what Candida Donadio, the agent, calls “The East Side Gang,” or what everybody else just calls “The Paris Review Crowd.”
And includes this darkly humorous episode:
Austryn Wainhouse, who had suspected that suicide was very much on Christopher’s mind, had spent the following week sitting outside of Christopher’s hotel each night watching his window, but one afternoon when Christopher was late for a luncheon date with Wainhouse, the latter rushed to the poet’s hotel and there, on the bed, was the painter.
“Where’s Chris?” Wainhouse demanded.
“I am not going to tell you,” the painter said. “You can beat me if you wish; you’re bigger and stronger than I, and. . .”
“I don’t want to beat you,” Wainhouse shouted. It then occurred to him how ridiculous was the painter’s remark since he (Wainhouse) was actually much smaller and hardly stronger than the painter. “Look,” he said, finally, “don’t you leave here,” and then he ran quickly to a café where he knew he would find Trocchi.
Trocchi got the painter to talk and admit that Christopher had left that morning for Perpignan, near the Spanish border twelve hours south of Paris, where he planned to commit suicide in much the same way as the character in the Samuel Beckett story in Merlin entitled “The End”—he would hire a boat and row out to sea, further and further, and then pull up the plugs and slowly sink.
Trocchi, borrowing thirty thousand francs from Wainhouse, hopped on the next train for Perpignan, five hours behind Christopher. It was dark when he arrived, but early the next morning he began his search.
Christopher, meanwhile, had tried to rent a boat, but did not have enough money. He also carried with him, along with some letters from his former girl friend, a tin of poison, but he did not have an opener, nor were there rocks on the beach, and so he wandered about, frustrated and frantic, until he finally came upon a refreshment stand where he hoped to borrow an opener.
It was then that the tall figure of Trocchi spotted him and placed a hand on Christopher’s shoulder. Christopher looked up.
“Alex,” Christopher said, casually handing him the tin of poison, “will you open this for me?”
Trocchi put the tin in his pocket.
”Alex,” Christopher then said, “what are you doing here?”
“Oh,” Trocchi said lightly, “I’ve come down to embarrass you.”
Christopher broke down in tears, and Trocchi helped him off the beach, and then they rode, almost in total silence, back to Paris on the train.
…After the suicide episode, which, according to George Plimpton, sent at least a half-dozen young novelists to their typewriters trying to build a book around it…
Great writing is great writing.