Reviews

A Kind Stranger – A review of the book ‘In the Frightened Heart of Me: Tennessee Williams’s Last Year’

By Kevin-Peter Motorwriter

“Only an artist can interpret the meaning of life” – Novalis

An artist’s role is to take the thoughts and ideas born out of his creative mind and breathe life and expression into them. This role requires creativity in his ability to marry the non-conventional with the conventional to make something new. He is someone who can take a holistic view of an idea and interpret its true meaning to the whole world.

Author Tony Narducci’s book ‘In The Frightened Heart of Me: Tennessee Williams’s Last Year’ is a part memoir and largely a biography on Tennessee Williams’s last year. A providential meeting between Tennessee Williams and Tony Narducci takes place at a time when the famous playwright was on the decline of his career while Tony was struggling to choose between a creative and a business career. This book chronicles the last year in the life of Tennessee Williams with Tony Narducci and the many adventures they shared and the ones they couldn’t. Tennessee Williams whose real name was Tom wrote plays exploring human passion with an unflinching and iconoclastic candour, shattering conventional proprieties and transforming the American stage of his day. His works include the very famous, The Glass Menagerie, A streetcar named desire, Cat on a hot tin roof, Orpheus Descending, Sweet bird of youth, Night of the Iguana and the last staged play, A house not meant to stand. Tony Narducci’s narrative reveals the compassion and love he had for Tennessee Williams while also extrapolating the oddity and emotional complexity of such a relationship.

It has always been an interesting study to look at an artist’s life after fame and celebrity hood has taken over. How often the deadly mix of consumerism, media, popular culture, glamour and the star system transforms someone from just another person into an object of desire. Tennessee Williams was defied by thousands by people, fan of both his work and the image he presented to the outside world. In fact his popularity places him securely as America’s most famous and revered playwright and author. Known metaphors won’t be enough for this man as he has outstripped them of its use and new ones need to be invented to praise the genius behind the craft.

Tony Narducci’s book can be easily summarised as about two men trying to find happiness in their own way. Tony has written this book in such a way that it compliments and interjects with Tennessee’s famous plays, and this is reflected right from the title headings to his almost melancholic and brutally honest prose. The book title itself a line from the poem in the play, Night of the Iguana. Even though the author got to witness only the last year of Tennessee’s life he has brilliantly portrayed the popular culture idol living his grand life, flirting his way through the good things life had to offer. When you read more about what Tony has to say about Tennessee, you get the feeling that the maverick playwright never received his share of real love he so often brilliantly captured through his writing by creating memorable characters play with variations of this same emotion. You also get the feeling that Tennessee’s lifelong craving for affection and companionship was perhaps a reflection on his poor childhood bolstered by lack of proper parental guidance or even their mere presence.

It sucks you (no pun intended) into this different culture, a world within where perhaps you think anything is possible and this is partly because we are discussing such a larger than life figure and partly because Tony’s languid writing makes it read like a tragic romantic play written by the great man himself. Reading this book is like watching a private home video that a close aide of Tennessee has made. Honesty is the word that keeps popping up while writing this review because Tony’s work really is honest, sometimes bordering on naivety and he has maintained this style while discussing Tennessee’s as well as his own life.

The Frightened Heart of Me actually gives the reader a definite feel of a novel like narrative, bordering on a play with its impromptu life moments, a near sensuous atmosphere, and almost the sense of a classical Greek tragedy that looms through all the pages till the very end; the exquisite use of language is just an added bonus to make this truly a unique reading experience.

In the end Tennessee Williams comes across as a man who always had a smile and a laugh tucked away on him; for the few genuine moments he felt happiness and the rest of the time as a defence against the populace who all wanted to consume his celebrity status.

Product Details
Paperback: 310 pages
Publisher: iUniverse (May 8, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 147596594X
ISBN-13: 978-1475965940

Buy From – http://www.amazon.com/dp/147596594X/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

 

In the Frightened Heart of Me: Tennessee Williams’s Last Year
By Tony Narducci, iUniverse, Inc.; 302 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by Melissa Wasserman
By Tony Narducci, $21.95; iUniverse, Inc.; 302 pages

“Would you like a kind stranger to help?”

The year that defined Tony Narducci’s life started with words he borrowed from his literary hero’s work when he spotted Tennessee Williams stumbling on the stairs at a nightclub in Key West, Fla. in February 1982 and offered him an arm.

Narducci’s memoir, titled In the Frightened Heart of Me: Tennessee Williams’s Last Year, narrates the significant and complex friendship he and Williams had until the playwright’s untimely death a year after they met. It is a story with what seems to have lasting impacts for the author according to what the author writes.

At 14, Narducci fell in love with Williams’ poetry; 20 years later the famous 71-year-old poet fell in love with him. Narducci was drawn in as the playwright’s confidant providing him with platonic friendship and assistance through his declining health, while Williams constantly craved companionship and love, often addressing the author endearingly as “baby.”

The famous playwright came to relish the young man’s company so much so that he proposed Narducci be his live-in companion and accompany him abroad. However, Narducci faced the ongoing pressure of wanting to follow his own artistic aspirations as opposed to feeding off Williams’ celebrity and accomplishments and completely devoting his life to him.

“Like Blanche in ‘Streetcar,’ he was wrapping us in illusion,” Narducci writes in relation to his and Williams’ differing expectations.

Together, the two men viewed Williams’ last plays together, allowing Narducci to witness his dramatic reactions and hear his strong opinions on the various actors portraying roles he created. Off the stage and throughout the book, Narducci insightfully recognizes fictional characters that come to existence through Williams’ emotions and actions. Play references are scattered throughout the novel.

Other adventures include traveling together in Florida, Boston, New York and Narducci’s hometown of Chicago; attending events such as an honorary doctorate degree ceremony at Harvard University; and being at a performance Williams and Vanessa Redgrave staged in Boston during which Williams read an essay, garbling his words due to his loose denture bridge. Their outings also included wining and dining with others including Narducci’s friends.

Narducci’s debut book is based off his journal from that particular time in his life with the title taken from the last scene of Williams’ “The Night of the Iguana.” He provides readers with detail of his own perceptions surrounding the time period.

The heart becomes even more frightened when Narducci writes about gay life that year in which little was known about the AIDS epidemic and unprotected sex was rampant, resulting in numerous deaths among his close friends.

The authenticity of the memoir is furthered with reproduced letters Williams sent Narducci as they corresponded when apart. The author illustrates Williams’ unfiltered qualities including needy, demanding, dedicated to writing, tearful over his fear of dying alone and loveless, gracious, flirtatious and lustful.

Toward the book’s end, the tension is rather high as Williams’ and Narducci’s relationship dwindles and he eventually passes. Narducci further experiences fear of relationships and losing friends to AIDS. Written with great detail and raw emotions on close friendships, readers will get a more colorful image of the literary icon beyond the plays, poetry and press.

 

Blueink Review:

In The Frightened Heart of Me: Tennessee Williams’s Last Year
Tony Narducci
iUniverse, 302 pages, (paperback) $21.95, 97814759-6594-0
(Reviewed: June 2013)

Tony Narducci had idolized Tennessee Williams for two decades when they met at a gay Key West disco in February 1982. Narducci offered his arm after having seen Williams stumble on the stairs. That simple act — the playwright stumbling, the young man propping him up — became the template for a complex and challenging friendship that lasted until Williams’s death almost exactly a year later.

Narducci was 34 to Williams’s 71, too young to put aside his own dreams and become Williams’s live-in companion as the writer exhorts him to do. Instead, the two travel and spend time together, in Narducci’s hometown of Chicago as well as Boston, New York
and Key West.

Narducci’s poignant, well-written memoir (the title taken from Williams’s The Night of the Iguana), is based on his journal from that time, along with letters the two men exchanged. His description of a show staged by Williams and Vanessa Redgrave (in which Williams reads an essay with a loose denture bridge garbling some of his words) enlivens the narrative, as do cameo appearances by Mike  Wallace and Andy Warhol, among others.

Narducci portrays his literary hero as alternately needy and lascivious, gracious and demanding; a pill-popping, wine-guzzling, emotional wreck prone to tears over his fear of dying loveless and alone. It’s a sympathetic portrait of a highly complex man, a man
the author describes as an amalgam of Williams’s own fictional characters: “He was always protean: wise like Big Daddy, fragile like Laura, gentile like Blanche, persistent like Maggie, and fickle like Alexandra.”

Along with the last year of Williams’s life, Narducci’s memoir paints an indelible portrait of gay life on the brink of the AIDS epidemic, before the emerging “gay plague” is linked to unprotected sex. His bittersweet memoir is sure to captivate readers with an interest
in Williams or in gay life on either side of the Great Divide that was AIDS.

 

Foreword Clarion Review:

In the Frightened Heart of Me: Tennessee Williams’s Last Year
Tony Narducci
iUniverse
978-1-4759-6594-0
Four Stars (out of Five)
Searing and loving, this intelligently constructed scrapbook of a friendship is a mustread. A heart-wrenching exploration of what  happens when our heroes come to life, Tony Narducci’s memoir recalls one extraordinary year, in the early eighties, when he became the trusted confidant of and companion to the enigmatic playwright Tennessee Williams. It was a year in which Narducci vacillated between searching for direction in his own life as an artist and trying to understand and befriend a man whom he’d considered for so long to be brilliant and beyond reach.

One balmy Miami night, Narducci runs into Williams, his childhood idol, on the stairs of a nightclub. He reaches out to steady the luminary, who teeters on aging legs. Their meeting is punctuated by Narducci’s introduction of a line from Williams’s own canon. The playwright, taken by the learned young artist, responds with a gracious invitation upstairs for a drink. So begins their year-long intimate friendship that veers toward a sexual relationship in the beginning but is primarily directed by the deep loneliness Williams feels in his later years.

The playwright is determined not to live out his worst fear: that he’d die alone. He confesses to Narducci that not even the love of his life, Frankie, had managed to return the passion he’d offered. Now, in his twilight, he hopes only for  companionship. He addresses the adoring Narducci, who loves Williams’s work but feels no desire toward him, as “baby,” and
draws him in with soul-baring confessions, exclusive seatings at play premieres, introductions to people ranging from Vanessa Redgrave to Mother Teresa, and hints of trips to the wilds abroad.

Narducci’s connection to the playwright is directed by a mixture of fascination and compassion, as well as recognition that some hunger in the artist’s soul is echoed in his own. Still, the author finds himself unable to return Williams’s interest in equal measure, and their plan for an extended trip to Australia falls through. Narducci receives word of the playwright’s death shortly thereafter. He mourns for his friend. Still, obituary references to Narducci as the
Sicilian who’d broken Williams’s heart begged correction. This project, by examining how celebrity obscures the reality of people’s lives, is a partial attempt to address that misconception.

Narducci’s pages are candid and incisive, though his descriptions are sometimes weakened by an overreliance on adverbs. He laughs loudly, moves slowly, reacts quickly, asks incredulously, and in the midst of this, we lose our grasp on who he is. Still, Narducci’s decision to hold little back and to interweave illuminating portions of Williams’s own work into his own attests to his continued admiration for the writer. These pages also expose Williams’s humanity:
his insecurities, his wounds, his hungers, and his half-truths are all given a place.

The portrait Narducci paints may be unfamiliar to Williams devotees, but it’s one they shouldn’t miss. A searing and loving memoir that warrants a film adaptation, this intelligently
constructed scrapbook of a friendship is a must-read.
-Michelle Anne Schingler

 

Kirkus review:

IN THE FRIGHTENED HEART OF ME
Tennessee Williams’s Last Year
Narducci, Tony
iUniverse (310 pp.)
ISBN: 978-1475965957; May 7, 2013
This memoir chronicles the author’s relationship with Tennessee Williams during the last year of the playwright’s life. “There’s no road map for what to do when an aging genius asks a career-challenged young man to be his companion,” Narducci writes about midway through the book, his first. That uncertainty is apparent from the first pages, in which an initial encounter with Williams in Key West is sexual yet almost unbearably sad. The relationship, according to Narducci, quickly becomes platonic, but the tensions never disappear, and most of the memoir is devoted to describing them: Williams’ declining health, restiveness and need for companionship compared to Narducci’s relative youth, ambition and independence. Although Narducci is right that such affairs don’t come with instructions, they hav e plenty of precedents; still, he expresses the relationship and the emotional conflict it engenders rather effectively, on its own terms, avoiding for the most part any May-December clichés or the master/student dynamic. Narducci, a former English teacher and film student, writes theatrically, with graphic and florid descriptions of the pre-AIDS gay-nightlife scene and plenty of smoldering, meaningful glances taken right from the Hollywood era in which Williams’ plays were first filmed. Nevertheless, he seems genuinely worshipful of the playwright’s genius, and many of the events he describes—the premiere of Williams’ final play in Chicago; an artistic protest and performance in Boston with Vanessa Redgrave; an honorary degree ceremony at Harvard—are significant markers from the last year of Williams’ life. Additionally, correspondence from Williams to Narducci is reproduced here, a valuable resource for future biographers. The book loses some of its innocence in the final chapters, when grudges emerge among Williams’ handlers and Narducci portrays himself as unimpeachably earnest and well-intentioned. In the end, readers may be left wondering where exactly the balance of power lay between the two men—the same question from Key West, still  unanswered. Raw, readable and a little sexy, this memoir adds color to the portrait of Williams as an author, a celebrity and a man.

 

In the Frightened Heart of Me: Tennessee Williams’s Last Year
Reviewed By Gordon Osmond of Bookpleasures.com

Author: Tony Narducci
Publisher: iUniverse
ISBN: 978-1-4759-6594-0 (sc)
ISBN: 978-1-4759-6595-7 (hc)
ISBN: 978-1-4759-6596-4 (e)

One who, with some justification, might think that Tennessee “Tom” Williams’ last boy toy would be an unlikely chronicler of the last year in the life of America’s iconic playwright would be outstandingly wrong. For with unrelenting candor and superb writing skills Tony Narducci paints a portrait of the artist as an old man that anyone interested in the perilous nexus between art and celebrity would be a fool to ignore.

In the Frightened Heart of Me, a title taken from the final line of an exquisite poem featured in The Night of the Iguana, does have its share of fan-mag gossip and peek-between-the-sheets allure, but all of that is eclipsed by the author’s thoughtful analysis of what his association with the playwright during the latter’s final year meant to both and each of them.

The author and the playwright met in Key West at a bar called The Monster, somewhat apt, considering that there is much monstrous about the playwright portrayed in this book. Self-centered, inconsiderate, boorish, indulgent, and parasitic is perhaps a good start but hardly the end of the indictments. Most reprehensible, perhaps, was his chronic taunting of the author with the senior playwright’s somewhat pathetic appetite for other men.

Except for an incident in New York, when the author retaliates with an act of deliberate cruelty, Blanche du Bois’ unforgiveable sin, worthy of the master himself, Mr. Narducci is a sympathetic defender and apologist for Williams. It reminded me of Mel ‘the velvet fog’ Torme’s account of life with Judy Garland during the run of her ill-fated TV show as told in his equally fascinating memoir, On the Dawn Patrol. In both cases, the star’s dazzling talent produced in the fan a virtually abysmal ability to overlook and forgive.

Despite Williams’grander-than-life persona, Narducci tells his tale with meticulous authenticity, eschewing all exaggeration. The story of Williams acting with atrocious manners at a dress rehearsal of a play at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago brought back memories of when I, presenting a definitive portrayal of The Waiter in a Columbia College production of Camino Real, learned that the playwright was in the audience swilling from a flask and repeatedly slurring, “There’s only one Kazan.” This didn’t make our director feel terribly well. I was fascinated by Narducci telling us that later in life, Williams’ effort to blame anything and everyone for his self-induced unhappiness extended even to debasing Kazan. Williams, in his 70s for heaven’s sake, kvetching about his unloving parents, was a, to quote Katherine Hepburn in On Golden Pond, “bore, bore, bore.”

Further authenticity is provided by the reproduction of several letters from Williams to, variously, Dear Tony (colon), Dear Tony (comma supplied by the book’s editor) and Dear Tony (nothing, open punctuation). I may be old fashioned, but I think performing fallatio on an addressee allows for dropping the very businesslike colon in addressing him in a letter. These letters also contain more first person singular pronouns than your average Obama address.

Equally accurately and beautifully described are Key West, the Fire Island of the 60s, and The Saint, a New York non-breeding ground pleasure palace for good-looking gays in the late 70s and early 80s.

The book abounds with insider insights into Williams. One standout was the playwright’s atrocious taste in actors performing his works. It boggles the mind to think that he thought Ann-Margaret with her abundant titian tresses could represent Blanche du Bois more effectively than the incandescent performance of Vivien Leigh. One has to wade through a lot of actors on the totem pole, Bankhead, Harris, Danner to name a few, before arriving at Ann. And he should have thanked his lucky stars that Geraldine Page eventually played The Princess in the film version of Sweet Bird of Youth instead of Elizabeth Taylor. That said, I cannot quarrel with the playwright’s comparison of Anna Magnani and Vanessa Redgrave, having seen the latter on the Broadway stage in Orpheus Descending and the former in its film adaptation, The Fugitive Kind. But expecting a Brit to be as sensual as the quintessential Italian is asking a lot.

Associations between Williams and Blanche du Bois have been around a long time, but Narducci adds significantly to the thesis. Stella defends Blanche to Stanley by noting that she was radically more appealing when younger. Let’s hope that Williams was, too. The author also adds interesting parallels between Williams and Sebastian Venable in Suddenly, Last Summer, both being both devouring and ultimately devoured. The final comparison involving not Williams but the author himself is unstated but clear—the author’s feeling that in the dawn of AIDS he was a dark angel of death, not unlike the Richard Burton character in BOOM!, the film adaptation of Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. Fortunately for the reader of this book, Narducci was a survivor. Along the path of this fascinating memoir there are historical tidbits and rhetorical flourishes that make the journey from start to finish a genuine delight:

  • I was smitten by the heavenly sound of a black grand piano. Moonlight Sonata and For Elise lifted my spirit before I knew what spirit was.
  • I studied Fellini, Bergman, Truffaut, Chaplin, Welles and more. The flickering images flashed in my soul like downloading software.
  • Vanessa Redgrave eats Chinese food with a fork.
  • Narducci knows that older women shouldn’t wear long hair.
  • Harvard University has an interesting way of listing the occupation of honorees:
    • Virgil Thomson, Composer
    • J. Donald Monan, Boston College President
    • Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Missionary
    • Dr. Maxwell Finland, Infectious Disease
  • With the determination that guided his entire life, he would reach for one last hope, and I would be his sail on the journey that would take him to the land Down Under.
  • John was an expert talker and a deaf listener.
  • Bette Davis thought Ronald Reagan, her drinking buddy in Dark Victory, a simpleton.

There are some minor editorial mishaps: ware v. wear, there v. their, gentle v. gentile, find v. fid (sic).

Narducci caught and caught up with Williams in the final stage in the professional life of many successful playwrights: the first, astonishing artistic achievement born of the kind of passion and struggle only the unknown can know; the second, the smug complacency of knowing that whatever you write will be produced; and the third, the desperation resulting from what Narducci poetically refers to as a loss of voice.

Those who are fascinated by the arc of literary greatness in general and the career of Tennessee Williams in particular will find immense satisfaction and pleasure reading this masterful account of a man who also just happened to die at a poignant turning point in the lives of gays in America.