Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil by Jerome Charyn

Jerome Charyn's Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil is part of the Icons of America series. The statement for the series says it's "A series of short works written by leading scholars, critics, and writers, each of whom tells a new and innovative story about American history and culture through the lens of a single iconic individual, event, object, or cultural phenomenon. In this case, Charyn examines DiMaggio's iconic baseball career, and the long years after Marilyn Monroe's death when DiMaggio just went through the motions of living, in contrast to that baseball life, when he never just went through the motions. I don't know when I've read a sadder biography.

Charyn divides Joe DiMaggio's life into three parts; the short period before baseball, the baseball career, and the long period after Marilyn Monroe's death. The son of a fisherman dropped out of high school after one year to play ball. During his years with the Yankees, he prowled center field. With his bat and his fielding, he became "The greatest living player," the Yankee Clipper who ruled baseball for thirteen years. He left the sport for a short time during WWII, serving reluctantly. But, he lost his first wife and son to baseball and his silence, his moodiness.  When another beautiful blonde, Marilyn Monroe, set her sights on DiMaggio, he didn't stand a chance. Marilyn needed Joe DiMaggio, the prince who could raise her from a starlet who posed nude for pinups, and was in trouble with her studio.  She used him while claiming to love another man, playwright Arthur Miller. But, DiMaggio loved her as much as he was capable of loving anyone. She dumped him after a year, but "It's DiMaggio who will get her out of the madhouse, DiMaggio who will bury her, who will clean up the mess, who will have roses sent to her crypt religiously for twenty years."

There's so much more to Charyn's book about Joe DiMaggio's devotion to baseball, and his image that lived for so many that saw or heard his exploits on the field.  It was his entire life, except for his love for Marilyn Monroe. When she died after his retirement, he really had nothing left. Although he was a spokesman for years, Charyn shows us that the man was just a shadow, holding a vigil for his lost life and his lost love. Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil is about the tragedy of a man's life, a long period of nothingness.  As I said, this is one of the saddest true stories I've read.

Jerome Charyn's website is

Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil by Jerome Charyn. Yale University Press. ©2011. ISBN 9780300123289 (hardcover), 192p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I reviewed this book as part of a blog tour. Blog Tour web site:

Jerome Charyn's  Bio:

Jerome Charyn (born May 13, 1937) is an award-winning American author. With nearly 50 published works, Charyn has earned a long-standing reputation as an inventive and prolific chronicler of real and imagined American life. Michael Chabon calls him “one of the most important writers in American literature.”

New York Newsday hailed Charyn as “a contemporary American Balzac,” and the Los Angeles Times described him as “absolutely unique among American writers.”

Since the 1964 release of Charyn’s first novel, Once Upon a Droshky, he has published 30 novels, three memoirs, eight graphic novels, two books about film, short stories, plays and works of non-fiction. Two of his memoirs were named New York Times Book of the Year. Charyn has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He received the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has been named Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture.

Charyn was Distinguished Professor of Film Studies at the American University of Paris until he left teaching in 2009.


Beth Hoffman said...

Your review is excellent -- my gosh, I felt so sad reading it, I imagine the book is heartbreaking.

Tribute Books said...

Lesa - what a great review. Thank you again for hosting a stop on the blog tour. You're right when you step away from Joe's legendary status as a ballplayer - you really begin to notice how his life was filled with sadness.

Lesa said...

It is such a sad book, Beth, nothing that you actually think about when you think of Joe DiMaggio.

Lesa said...

You're welcome! I enjoy reviewing a sports book now and again. There was nothing wonderful about DiMaggio's life, other than those years playing baseball.

Lenore said...

Great review - at first I thought the Long Vigil was too sad a title for an icon, but when I read the book, I realized all the losses - Joe lost baseball, he lost Marilyn, he lost his son and he lost his way. We lost our hero. This book is a good legacy - I think Joe would have wanted people to understand him even though he pushed them away. Thank you.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Lenore. The book is a legacy, isn't it? It is a story of tragic loss.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Sounds like a really interesting look (and a sad one) at a legend. He really sounds like such a broken man and I didn't realize that he had been.

Lesa said...

I didn't either, Elizabeth, but, once I read the book, it made sense. It is a sad book.

Anonymous said...

I had wanted to read this book and had forgotten the title. Thanks for your always interesting blog and reviews!