Maxwell Bodenheim, David Plotkin, Maxwell Bodenheim
228pp. Paper. $16.95.
My Life and Loves in Greenwich Village was originally published in 1954 by Bridgehead Books, one of Samuel Roth’s many imprints. It chronicles the declining years of the poet and novelist Maxwell Bodenheim (1892-1954), a bohemian legend of the 1920s. My Life and Loves finds Bodenheim twenty years later, divorced from his first wife, and married to his second, who is terminally ill; Bodenheim himself has been largely forgotten, even in Greenwich Village, and supports himself by selling poems to tourists in Washington Square Park. Its title notwithstanding, love plays almost no part in the book, which is mostly taken up with Bodenheim’s envious and pitying accounts of fellow Village personalities, from Papa Strunsky, landlord of the “Gonorrhea Mansion” on West Third Street, to the unhappy Aimée Cortez, who danced nude with a stuffed gorilla at Webster Hall, and killed herself at the age of nineteen.
There is, however, a story behind the story. It goes like this: Samuel Roth paid Bodenheim a stipend (in whiskey, some say) to write his memoirs; but the alcoholic Bodenheim failed to produce more than a few scrawled pages. So Roth brought in the versatile David George Plotkin to write the manuscript, and Plotkin did. It was published under Bodenheim’s name, and Bodenheim had no occasion to protest, because he was murdered six months before the book came out.
This new edition supplements Plotkin’s original manuscript with material from a notebook of Bodenheim’s, which was discovered in 1974 in Jersey City. Its contents have not been published until now, because, in the opinion of Bodenheim scholar Wallace Smith, the notes, although undeniably Bodenheim’s own, are “less Bodenheim” than Plotkin’s impersonation, and would only “make Bodenheim less interesting and less important from a literary-historical point of view.” While we don’t necessarily disagree with Smith, we feel that readers should have the chance to form their own opinions.
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