I first came on a paperback reprint of Cyril Connolly’s Enemies of Promise when I was already in my despairing middle thirties. Though I had been writing steadily and obsessively since the age of twenty-two, I was still mainly unpublished: a handful of poems, a couple of short stories, a single essay, and all in quirky little magazines printed, it seemed, in invisible ink. Connolly’s stringent dissertation on the anatomy of failure had a morbid attraction for me: it was like looking up one’s disease in the Merck Manual—I knew the symptoms, and it was a wound I was interested in. One day I urgently pressed my copy of Connolly on another failed writer a whole decade younger than myself; we were both teaching freshman composition at the time. He promised to read it; instead he hurried off into analysis and gay pride. I never saw the book again. My ex-colleague has, so far, never published....


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