1942 - 1982
1942 - 1982
In the 1970s, Tom McHale established himself as one of the most promising American novelists of his generation. In little more than a decade, he produced a half-dozen novels that were widely reviewed. Most of those reviews were enthusiastically – sometimes wildly – positive. But even those reviewers who were more guarded in their responses to the individual novels acknowledged the originality of McHales darkly comic vision, the engaging energy of his style, and the evidence of a considerable talent in his growing body of work. Reviewers compared his novels to those of Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., John Updike, Philip Roth, and Bruce Jay Friedman. In 1972, McHales second novel, Farragans Retreat, was named a finalist for the National Book Award, and two years later McHale was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship for fiction. A New York Times article on the current literary scene placed McHale with Don DeLillo in the vanguard of those novelists who were most influential in terms of the directions that the American novel would take in the 1980s. And yet, today, DeLillo has solidified his position as one of the major American novelists of the past three decades, whereas McHale has been largely forgotten.
McHale was born and grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He attended a Jesuit high school, and his familys Irish-American ethnicity and Roman Catholicism would become prominent elements in his novels. He graduated from Temple University, and for a while, he worked as a caseworker for the Department of Public Assistance in Philadelphia. The profound impression that the city made on him is evident in his first two novels, in which it serves as the primary setting. McHale would, however, temporarily abandon the urban northeast for the heart of the rural Midwest, pursuing an MFA degree at Iowa State University. (From: An essay written by Martin Kich, Wright State University)
By Richard Grayson
I noticed your photo of Tom McHale on your website. I really need to write about Tom one day. Do you know that after he committed suicide in his sisters garage about two miles from where I am sitting, I was asked to speak at his memorial service because, the person said, You were his best friend, werent you? when in reality, I was just an acquaintance of Tom. It was so sad. Tom and I met, I guess around 1981, as part of the Book Group of South Florida. Most of the people there were old ladies whod been in publishing. Tom was amazed Id read all his books and could quote lines from Farragans Retreat. Hed had a really rough time of it by that time, and he finally had another book coming out. I remember his publication party at the tony Bay Harbor Islands. I always feel uncomfortable at these things, and it was clear to me that most of these people were just society types or people on the make who had no idea who Tom was or his place in American literature. I left early, stopped off for a couple of errands, and then went to a Burger King to get a Whopper. I was shocked to see Tom sitting there alone, just after hed been the guest of honor at his publication party. I guess at that moment I sensed how lonely he was, and I sat with him, and I guess it was really the only time I really talked to him, and even then, he was pretty stoic and reticent.
He got a horrible review from Ivan Gold, whod had his own problems with writers block and alcohol, in the Sunday NY Times Book Review, and I know that depressed him. But I dont know what caused him to take his life. His very Catholic family (siblings) were, I suspect, always somewhat uncomfortable with Tom. I never talked to his sister. The newspapers asked me for comments about his death, and I said stupid things. A year later, I had a book reviewed in the NY Times Book Review, also by Ivan Gold, and it was a mostly nice review, but the niceness was spoiled by how Golds review had hurt Tom.
Its like 22 years ago, and I dont know why Im writing you at this length about it, but seeing his picture on his website (he looked nothing like that by the time I knew him) really made me miss him.