Tom Wolfe’s My Name by Jessamyn West, 1955
The magic trick:
Using a great premise to create a fascinating psychological mystery
I have highlighted the sheer force of an idea as a magic trick in several stories on this blog. I don’t mean to keep repeating myself, but I can’t help it – the plot idea for this story is really, really good. A book salesman meets a man who claims to be Tom Wolfe, famous author in disguise as a vineyard owner in northern California.
That’s pretty unique territory.
Is he insane? Is he the real deal? He sure seems to know everything about Wolfe’s work and way of thinking. But it’s impossible, right?
If you’re going to write an inward-looking contemplation on the dual lives of a writer and the difficulties of fame and the public eye, well, this is about the least obnoxious, most interesting way to do so. It plays out as a fascinating psychological mystery for the narrator and reader, alike, to solve. And that’s quite a trick on West’s part.
“Mr. Wolfe,” I said, “your publicity material says you live in the South – and in New York – and your novels are about the South.”
“That’s right, Mr. Madden,” he said. “This is more or less my hideaway. But I intend to be more than a sectional writer. I hope to speak for all of America. To do that I must know all of America. So for a part of each year I grow grapes in Napa County. But I’m not here as often as it seems to the people in Burley. Genius has a protean quality that makes it seem more omnipresent than it is.”
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