An Appetite for Liebling | The Nation


An Appetite for Liebling

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It is there, in that aside, that Liebling becomes immortal, in the dead-on factual detail (the sad look that never left Turpin's face, not even in the short time he held the title) and the larger vision of the necessary courage in the unlucky and melancholy of this world.

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David Thomson
David Thomson is the author of The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film and...

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The sadness comes through, despite Liebling's determination to make his prose like champagne. He had his problems, even if readers felt that he and The New Yorker were a match made in heaven. I can imagine that the ladies adored Liebling and sometimes came close to unsettling his dedication to the deadline. Look at that face: Hasn't it known temptation? But his marriages were defeats, more or less. Number one, Ann McGinn, turned out to be schizophrenic, inclined to disappear for days at a time and the forlorn subject of many medical bills. Number two, Lucille Spectorsky, was a spendthrift and simply not able to get the jokes or the timing in Liebling's own Sugar Joe delivery. Still, he was resourceful. When the divorce to end that marriage obliged Liebling to endure a brief residence in cuisine-deprived Reno, Nevada, he heard of the vexed state of the Paiute Indians at nearby Pyramid Lake, went up to visit them and delivered the reports that now make up A Reporter at Large: Dateline--Pyramid Lake, Nevada. To see the ingenuity with which Liebling observes that bleak landscape and its bleaker human history is to know that he, or someone like him, might still bring freshness and humor to Iraq.

Marriage number three, to the writer Jean Stafford, herself a battered relic of earlier battles (she had been married to Robert Lowell and horribly injured in a car crash that occurred with him at the wheel), was happy but curtailed. For Liebling was so overweight the dire word "obese" came into use. He had gout and pneumonia, and this was long before Lipitor. In addition, he had regular bills, tax notices and the same old nagging of deadlines even as spirit and inspiration trailed away.

In a just America, Liebling's fat face would be on a stamp, and there would be movies extolling his life and his hours into the night typing up those delicate, poker-faced, but comic accounts of having been there, or thereabouts, or near enough to guess what kind of a piece might be written. Just Enough Liebling is a witty but provocative title--count on it, you are going to want much more.

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