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Summer Doorways

B

W.S. Merwin’s sweet but slight memoir — a decorous glimpse into the Pulitzer-winning poet’s youth — is a reminder of what many memoirs used to be like: allusive, discreet, and a bit dull. The son of a rigid Protestant minister, Merwin attended Princeton in the 1940s as one of the ”shabbier, nerdier” scholarship students, married young, and promptly landed a job as tutor to a wealthy American boy in southern France. There, he met Somerset Maugham (”I have never felt a living hand so cold, loose, and limp”), listened to a lot of Edith Piaf, and admitted to himself that he wasn’t in love with his new bride. But he’s too private (or polite) to go into any satisfying detail. Though impeccably written, Summer Doorways could use a jolt of tawdry contemporary exhibitionism — or even just some old-fashioned narrative energy.

Summer Doorways
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