Wednesday August 11th, 2010

Mentor by Tom Grimes

mentorGrimes’ memoir recounts his time at the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and his friendship with Frank Conroy, the head of the program and the mentor of the title. Grimes was Conroy’s favorite student, and his debut baseball-themed novel, Season’s End was supposed to send him on his way to literary stardom. Things didn’t turn out that way.

In the Washington Post, Michael Dirda praises the book without any reservations in sight:

From now on, anyone who dreams of becoming a novelist will need to read Tom Grimes’ brutally honest and wonderful Mentor. While there have been plenty of books on how to write, or how to get published, or how to promote your work, as well as a number of triumphalist accounts of “making it,” this is a story of what it’s like to just miss succeeding. It’s also a superb reminiscence of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the late 1980s and of its celebrated director, Frank Conroy, author of the classic memoir Stop-Time (1967).

In the New York Times, Dwight Garner says, “This is a book about striding up to the brink of success, only to have success disembowel you with a dull steak knife, bow, and then skip away, cackling.”


Garner’s review has the feel of a recommendation, but with a few caveats near the end: “Mentor is a harrowing book but not always an impressive one. There are plenty of stray details about Conroy . . . but this book isn’t close to a full portrait. [. . .] [Its] tone is often wet and therapized. ‘I arrived fatherless; I departed a son,’ Mr. Grimes writes about Iowa and Conroy. [. . .] I cringed but couldn’t put Mentor down.”

At Bookslut, Grimes talks about the book with J. C. Hallman, a fellow Workshop alum:

Oddly, since I’ve finished writing the memoir, I’ve noticed, as I never did before, how many people, in a variety of professions, speak of having a mentor. So, yes, the need is, at some level, universal, which is why, I’m coming to learn, the book speaks to a variety of people; also because the book is about failure, or the feeling that one is a failure, which is a universal fear as well.

Mentor: A Memoir by Tom Grimes
Tin House, 256 pp., $24.95