Frank Waters Remembers.
By Gregory McNamee
Of Time and Change, by Frank Waters (MacMurray & Beck). Cloth, $20.
FRANK WATERS, A well-regarded novelist and part-time Tucsonan who died in 1995, led a charmed if sometimes difficult childhood wandering the Southwest in the early years of this century. His father spent much time in Indian communities in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, and he often took young Waters with him, an education that would serve Waters well when he came to write his classic Book of the Hopi and The Man Who Killed the Deer. He also taught Waters the value of being footloose, of traveling freely and keeping one's eyes open along the way, and Waters became a keen observer of the region's people and customs.
After his father died, Waters made his way west to Los Angeles and later east to New York, where he worked, unhappily, as an engineer and advertising writer. "But none of my successive jobs and hectic marriages held any conviction of permanency," he writes in Of Time and Change. "I felt I was playing roles in which I was miscast, and I had lost the thread of my inner life."
That quest for his inner life occupies most of this series of autobiographical vignettes, written with Waters' trademark conversational ease. He describes with much affection the intellectual life of the pre-World War II Southwest, when Mabel Dodge and Mary Austin held sway over Taos and the likes of D. H. Lawrence, Georges Gurdjieff, C. G. Jung, and Andrew Dasburg were the usual cocktail companions. Waters' sketches of such people are at once respectful and humorous, as with his description of the painter and professional liar Leon Gaspard, who claimed that he taught Marc Chagall to draw and helped Giacomo Puccini write his most famous opera. (Waters gently remarks that when La Boheme was first staged in Turin in 1896, Gaspard was a 14-year-old living on the Russian steppes).
Elsewhere Waters devotes much time to discussing his understanding of Native American spirituality and his researches into the Otherworld. Although his Book of the Hopi was a foundational document in the literature of the contemporary, creepy New Age movement, it is clear that Waters had little patience for cafeteria-style faith; his own quest involved considerable hard work, rigorous reading, and long conversations with leading religious thinkers of many cultures.
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