The Austin Chronicle

Summer Reading

Words gone wild! The best and the breeziest for beating the heat in 2002

By Roger Gathman, May 31, 2002, Books

The scene is dead," according to no less an authority than Sonic Youth. But what was the scene? In 1910, it was definitely Greenwich Village. If you were young, not so dumb, and full of lust (as well as white and middle class) in Cleveland, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Boston, in Mudville or Whoville, there was no place to go for what the French call esprit. Until the outbreak of WWI, Greenwich Village was a sanctuary for esprit refugees. Rents were cheap, love was free, John Reed was dashing, Gene O'Neill was drunk, and Edna St. Vincent Millay was worship-able. The rise and fall of the Village has been chronicled so many times that the pixie dust has rather rubbed off these figures. Ross Wetzsteon, an editor at The Village Voice who died before he could complete Republic of Dreams: Greenwich Village, the American Bohemia, 1910-1960 (Simon & Schuster, $35), tells the story again. He chooses an old-fashioned narrative technique beloved of Herbert Asbury and the great Lyle Saxon (author of Fabulous New Orleans): You spread out on a timeline a series of minor and major lives, creating a place out of the clustering of biographies. While the major lives have been told before -- do we really want the cold, dead embers of the Louise Bryant-Jack Reed affair warmed up one more time? -- the minor lives, like that of Maxwell Bodenheim or Margaret Anderson, are certainly worth retelling.

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