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Book Review: The Unknown Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur

Arthur Hoyle Focuses on the Writer’s Life in Big Sur


Arthur Hoyle comes right out of the chute with it: Henry Miller is one of the most neglected American writers — overlooked by the finest universities in the country, very few of which teach Miller, and excluded from the canon of American literature. Hoyle sets himself the prodigious task of introducing Miller to a new generation of readers.

Unlike other Miller biographers, Hoyle takes as his focus the years the writer lived in remote Big Sur. Tropic of Cancer, Miller’s most renowned work, had been published in Europe to considerable notoriety, but the book was banned from being sold in the United States because it was deemed to be obscene; this was a constant source of dismay for Miller as well as a reason for his penury. Miller may have had notoriety to spare when he set his feet on the road to the wild Sur in 1944, but he was 52 years old, broke, unmarried, a vagabond living by his wits and the generosity of friends and strangers.

Henry Miller’s principal achievement as a writer was taking the raw circumstances of his life — his struggle to find his unique literary voice, his travels, relationships, loves, and friendships — and transforming this source material, through language, into art. Although his reputation for writing about sex preceded him wherever he went, there is infinitely more to Miller than coitus. He was heavily influenced by old Europe and Asia, a mystic and philosopher obsessively concerned with how to live his life to its fullest potential.

Although I agree with Hoyle that Henry Miller deserves a place in the pantheon of American writers, and to be taught in our universities, I also believe that Miller is a writer best discovered by serendipity, because to do so is to be like a gold prospector who stumbles over a nugget the size of a baseball. Miller’s oeuvre is available for the seeker bold enough to venture beyond the boundaries of convention. The remote plateau off the beaten path is Henry Miller’s rightful place. And Hoyle’s The Unknown Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur is the perfect trailhead.

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Arthur Hoyle will sign copies of his book Wednesday, April 9, 7 p.m. at Chaucer’s Books, 3321 State Street. Info: 682-6787, chaucersbooks.com.

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