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Emily and Herman and Lillian and Dash and ...

April 09, 2013|By Carolyn Kellogg
  • Three books different books with eerily similar titles.
Three books different books with eerily similar titles. (Arcade Publishing / Other…)

Is the surest way to literary success the pairing of two cultural masters? There's a pile of books on my desk that say, yes, it is.

They total two novels, one history and one set of correspondence. The subjects are two literary figures who were a couple, two literary figures whose relationship is imaginary, a musical master and his wife, and two literary lions writing to one another.

These books are brought together by titles that are, in most instances, a set of paired names. "Emily and Herman" and "Lillian and Dash" and "Lina and Serge." The last has a different title -- "Here and Now: Letters 2008-2011" -- but the prominently displayed names of its authors tell a different story -- those of Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee.

The books aren't identical, of course. Here's a brief rundown.

"Here and Now: Letters, 2008-2011" by Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee, March 2013. The South-African-born Coetzee won the Nobel Prize in 2003; five years later, he met Auster, one of Brooklyn's most iconic writers. The correspondence the two sparked up is conducted, sometimes, by fax -- how antique! -- while touching on fiction, movies, politics and culture.

"Lina and Serge" by Simon Morrison, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 2013. Modernist composer Sergei Prokofiev was generally a lousy husband to his wife, Lina, a Spanish-Russian singer brought up in Brooklyn who left her career behind for Prokofiev. She raised their children, went to the Soviet gulag in 1948, and lived past 90. Morrison, a Princeton professor, went into Russian archives to tell a story that's more about Lina's struggles than Sergei's musical accomplishments.

"Emily and Herman" by John J. Healey, Arcade Publishing, May 2013. A novel of a "literary romance" between two authors, Emily Dickinson and Herman Melville -- who were not in fact lovers -- features cameo appearances by two other American authors of the period, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Walt Whitman.

"Lillian and Dash" by Sam Toperoff, Other Press, July 2013. Opinionated author Lillian Hellman and noir master Dashiell Hammett were a famously hard-drinking couple who never married. This is a novel that reimagines their relationship (which Hellman wrote about in her memoirs) with a strong dose of Golden Age romanticism.

What gives? If 2013 is the year of the pair, will 2014 be the year of the trio? Maybe 2015 will be the year where relationships get squared away. And so on.


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