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James Dickey, “deep-fried Norman Mailer”
Though poet and novelist James Dickey is best remembered for his novel Deliverance, he wished for his poetry to define his legacy. Dickey won a National Book Award for Buckdancer’s Choice and served as a consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, but it was his disturbingly powerful novel (and the movie by the same name) which earned him critical acclaim. In commemoration of Deliverance’s 40th anniversary, Dwight Garner dissects Dickey’s controversial and complex character in this New York Times review:
The novel has the primal witchery of “Lord of the Flies,” but attempts to teach it in classrooms have mostly been rebuffed: the novel’s homosexual rape scene, and its musky sexuality throughout, are too much for many. “Deliverance” has its detractors among Southerners, too, for its portrait of mountain people as toothless sociopaths. When he was governor of Georgia, the future United States senator Zell Miller placed it on his list of most hated books.
Dickey’s novel, like his poetry, has been in critical decline — unfortunately, I think — partly because of his excesses off the page, excesses carefully documented in Henry Hart’s fine biography “James Dickey: The World as a Lie” (2000). He’s been perceived as too studiedly macho, too careerist, a serial exaggerator if not an outright fabulist. (He radically embellished his flying record during World War II.) He slept with too many women; he drank oceanically.
“I am crazy about being drunk,” he wrote. “I like it like Patton liked war.”