On Writers

Morris Lurie 1938 – 2014

Novelist, playwright, story writer, poet. So fine a writer may write the Obituary. So here is Morris’s.

On his childhood:

“I was the only person in my class – probably in the whole school – who wanted to be a comic-strip artist. They were all dreamers. There they sat, the astronomer, the nuclear physicist, the business tycoon (on the Stock Exchange), two mathematicians, three farmers, countless chemists, a handful of doctors, all aged thirteen and all with their heads in the clouds. Dreamers! Idle speculators! A generation of hopeless romantics! It was a Friday night, I recall, when I put the finishing touches to my first full length, inked-in, original, six-page comic-strip.

“I didn’t have the faintest idea what to do with it. Actually, doing anything with it hadn’t ever entered my mind. Doing it was enough. Over the weekend I read it through sixty or seventy times, analysed it, studied it, stared at it, finally pronounced ‘It’s not too bad’, and then put it on the top of my wardrobe where my father kept his hats.”
From My Greatest Ambition’ (1984).

On his family:

“To backtrack. Our parents are dead, mum a slow cancer (Esther Lurie), a year in bed, dad a brain haemorrhage, (Arie Lurie) a rapid two months later exactly to the day. And when their house is finally sold, able to be sold, all personal property packed up and gone, (brother) Norman and I in a flat together, me an advertising copywriter now, he still at school. A year like this, maybe more, until enough is enough, the scream of passing life unstoppable, impossible to silence, to ignore, I sail to Europe to write, to become a writer, to be a writer, Norman taken by our fruiterer uncle to grow up alongside his own three sons, Michael the youngest.
Norman and I don't speak for years and years and years. How can I put this? Writers are not necessarily the best kind of brothers to have. No blame attaches. The freedom or necessity of invention, of lying, if you like, if you must, is not always readily understood or perceived. Or not easily. Interpretation is all. Nevertheless a lack, a loss. A sadness.”
From Aspects of Veracity (2013).

Of Swinging London in the Sixties:

“Pass the pith helmet. Break out the quinine. England is dying. Summer has come to the UK at last. Yesterday was the hottest day of the year. Way up in the low 80s. So was the day before. And the day before that. I don’t know about today – I’m writing this yesterday to thwart a deadline.

Summer in England! Everyone goes insane. It’s like it’s never happened before. Clothes fly. Bodies sprawl. Hyde Park looks like a massive rehearsal for Oh! Calcutta or The Dirtiest Show in Town. Office girls, who are practically naked anyhow, expose even more vital inches to the throbbing sun. Pale English flesh dazzles the eye.”
From The English in Heat (1972 Illus. Michael Leunig).

Also of Sixties London:

“O Swinging London, O Miraculous Days. In bed I held her in my arms and felt her never closer, never before such need, and in that instant when my heart flew out – my entire life, it seemed, my very soul – for a swooning moment I thought it would never return, I spun in endless blackness. I was surely lost, but then it did, and I felt a great peace settling over me, a wonderful warmth. I smiled. I rejoiced. I was alive.”
*From The Night We Ate the Sparrow (1985). *

Of Paris, with then wife Caroline:

“’Here we are, in the most civilized and sophisticated city in the world. Impressionism was born here. Picasso went through some of his best periods just around the corner. Henry Miller… Well, Paris is a movable feast.’

‘Exactly!’ cried the good wife, instantly producing a knife and fork. ‘Where do we sit?’

“Patience, my dear,’ I counselled her. ‘It’s only five o’clock. Surely you haven’t digested your breakfast yet. Let us first have a little culture. A little nourishment for the soul, as it were.’

‘The Louvre?’ the good wife whispered reverentially.

‘Are you crazy?’ I roared. ‘That old stuff! I’m talking about real culture! I’m talking about true art!’And before the good wife could make further utterance, I had led her into a darkened salon where on one wall an exhibition of Dadaism featuring the Brothers Marx was in progress.

Ah, Paris. Truly a movable feast.”
From Across the River and Into the Moveable Feast (1972).

Of daughter Rachel 1970 - 1993:

“Your daughter dies. A phone call yanks you from that side of the world to this, an actuality of how so many hours, in trapped impatient pointless rush. To land. To see faces. Friends. Others. To hear words. In rite. In ritual. Of formulaic pattern. Which is not to say, however, not felt.

Where and how quickly agreed, arranged. You walk. You stand. You watch. You see. You can or can’t, you do or don’t cry, the story is the same.”
From The Gift of Strength (2013).

Anticipating the inevitable presence of Rachel’s face, a flash of her hair, of her gesture, in every group of schoolgirls passing by: 
“ … to find himself, at a certain corner, passing a certain corner, this busy and bustling certain corner of third and final glimpse or facet once afforded, the record, the rush, the reason, Hergesheimer in humbled discovery seeking still in desperate denial her alive rushing face.”

On winning the Patrick White Award 2006:

“All writers go through times when no-one notices them. Some recognition is important. I think writing is a conversation, and there has to be someone at the other end.”
From ABC Book Show.

After reading in The Australian Review of Books, 2011, Don Anderson on ‘Hergesheimer Hangs In’Lurie said, ‘It’s good to be noticed. This is all a writer can expect.’

Anderson had written: Ah, those sentences, those riffs. Lurie is, to borrow a title from Barthelme’s ‘Great Days,’ (1979) ‘The King of Jazz.’

Lurie conceded, ‘I’d expect I play some Miles Davis five or six times in a day.’

Of Jewishness:

‘Israel has ruined Jews. We are a better people in diaspora.’ Also Seventeen Versions of Jewishness (2001).

Longtime spouse Helen Taylor, ex-wife Caroline, brother Norman, sister Naomi, son Ben and his young family live on, as do thousands of his readers.

And he would like this: When I thanked his Helen for her extraordinary effort during the worst of these times for him, she seemed perplexed by the intensity of our gratitude, and she said, ‘He is my Morris Lurie, too.’

John Bryson, Editor.