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Brad Gooch's Memoir, 'Smash Cut', Is That of a Literary Connoisseur

Gooch traces the life of '70s and '80s New York with his partner, Howard Brookner, with humour and poignancy.

Smash Cut: A Memoir of Howard & Art & the '70s & the '80s

Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 256 pages
Author: Brad Gooch
Price: $27.99
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2015-04

Brad Gooch, whom in the last 20 years or so has become increasingly known for his biographical works, started his career in New York during the '70s as a model, landing himself in the pages of high fashion magazines. Modeling, in fact, was a means to keep paying the rent.

Gooch’s true vocation in literature would see his works published in various magazines during the first lap of his literary pursuits.

It’s not surprising, then, that the author would keep notes on his day-to-day life during this period; a writer of sincere devotion, Gooch has been committed to his craft, essaying city lifestyles that somehow manage to be deeply detailed studies explored at reserved distances. His biographical works on writers Frank O’Hara and Flannery O’Connor have been widely praised and his fiction considered stylish and modern revisions on traditional narratives. In his memoir Smash Cut, Gooch traces the life of '70s and '80s New York with the same fashionable tongue of a literary connoisseur, approaching the details of his life with humour and poignancy.

Smash Cut deals mainly with the writer’s relationship to the late filmmaker Howard Brookner, whose life would succumb to AIDS in 1989. Despite the grim trajectory that would follow the relationship of love between these two men, Gooch, through meaningful humour, maintains a perspective that never allows Brookner to be viewed as a tragic figure. His honesty in the events that unfold in the ways he has observed and remembered them ring with a truth that is at once careful and emotional.

In essaying his friend and lover’s life, we also become witness to just how much of their life together was framed by the insistent and urgent energy of New York’s downtown scene. One passage examines the particulars of apartment-hunting, an activity customary of new lovers; the romance of strange new spaces, the kind which could only exist in New York, is essayed with a perceptive and detailed eye: “In a photograph Paula Court took of the two of us in the kitchen soon after we moved in, we look like each other’s doppelgänger, both in flannel shirts, and matching curly locks, Howard smiling gleamingly while poking with a knife at a turkey in the oven in the dirtiest kitchen imaginable (for Thanksgiving , 1979), me smirking, looking down, overwhelmed, at a counter strewn with a dirty jar of mayonnaise, a dirty black pepper tin, a dirty Triscuit box.”

Surrounding the sometimes precarious relationship between Brookner and Gooch are the dalliances with celebrity life as seen during New York’s heyday of '80s cool. Madonna (who was a good friend to Brookner, supportive during his deteriorating health) makes a number of appearances, as Gooch journals her life during the recording of Like a Prayer and her role in Brookner’s Bloodhounds of Broadway. As well, Gooch relays an interesting experience in his work as a journalist, interviewing Kathleen Turner, fresh off the cart from her star-making role in Body Heat.

Ultimately, however, the complications of Brookner’s illness soon come to eclipse the energy of both youth and creation. Gooch who, during the course of his relationship with Brookner, begins to discover the potential of his creative powers, is faced with the prospect of continuing his life without the man who helped cultivate those powers with both love and inspiration. Gooch has often maintained such objective readings for the admired subjects of his meticulously-researched biographies (his latest topic of interest is that of 13th century Persian poet Rumi, whom he is currently researching for a new book). But the author makes it known that, here, the truth between two people are measured entirely with the heart.


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