Last weekend an old friend came by and surprised me with an offhand statement. She had been friends of the writer George W.S. Trow, who died last November at 63, and she said he had been in and out of mental institutions in the years before he died.
When I was young, all journalists of any ambition worshiped Trow because of his groundbreaking 1980 essay, “Within the Context of No-Context.” As style, as vision, a theory, the piece had enormous impact. It was published in The New Yorker, and I’d read the New Yorker’s eulogy to Trow, a loving piece by Hendrik Hertzberg (a former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, whose name Carter dropped at Brandeis the other day during his speech, to get a little cred with the homeboys). Hertzberg’s piece elided Trow’s apparent miseries with oldfashioned ellipticalness:
The NYT obit on Trow was a little more forthcoming, referring to “a psychiatric hospital.” But as film-commenter Ray Pride notes:
I wonder how much more Trow’s eulogists knew on this score. Trow was a literary genius, with a burn rate like Stephen Crane and E.A. Poe; and literary geniuses often suffer from mental problems. I thought we were supposed to be past shame about these matters.