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James Purdy Biography

(1923– ), 63 Dream Palace, Malcolm, The Nephew, Cabot Wright Begins, Eustace Chisholm and the Works

nephew boy lost west

American novelist and short-story writer, born in Ohio, educated at the University of Ohio and the University of Puebla, Mexico. His work is often set in West Virginia or in New York where he has spent most of his life. Purdy established his dominant theme of a lost boy, casually encountered by the narrator in his first extended fiction, 63 Dream Palace (1956). Malcolm (1959, dramatized 1965 by Edward Albee) concerns another lost boy, searching for his father in a corrupt adult world; in The Nephew (1960), a spinster decides to write a commemorative booklet about her loved nephew presumed dead in Korea, and in the process discovers his hatred for society and his homosexuality. Cabot Wright Begins (1964) is a satirical novel about a rapist himself inveigled into becoming a victim by publishers who want to turn his deeds into money. Eustace Chisholm and the Works (1967), set in Depression Chicago, is far more explicit about homosexual relations than previous work and also presents more markedly the prelapsarian–postlapsarian antithesis stemming from a heterodox Christianity so central to subsequent work. I am Elijah Thrush (1972) and In a Shallow Grave (1975) are poetic extravaganzas. The trilogy Sleepers in Moon-Crowned Valleys (Jeremy's Version, 1970; The House of the Solitary Maggot, 1974; Mourners Below, 1981) offers Purdy's profoundest insights into the dreams and urges of people placed in a convention-bound milieu. Narrow Rooms (1978), his most audacious work, presents tragic homosexual relationships between four young men in a remote West Virginia community and culminates in acts of appalling violence which stand as re-enactments of religious myth. Subsequent works include the novels On Glory's Course (1983), In the Hollow of His Hand (1987), Garments the Living Wear (1989), and Out With the Stars (1992); Children Is All (1962), stories and two plays; The Candles of Your Eyes (1988), stories; and Collected Poems (1990).

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