James Leo Herlihy was born in 1927 in Detroit, Michigan to a working-class family. After serving in World War II, Herlihy studied art, literature, and music at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, whose faculty had boasted such luminaries as William De Kooning and John Cage. After a professor told Herlihy that he had no future as a writer, the disillusioned Herlihy turned his attention to theater, where he met with considerable success and found acting roles in more than fifty plays over the span of several years.But Herlihy continued writing fiction despite the discouragement he had received and in 1960 he published All Fall Down, a largely critically acclaimed work which was later adapted for film. In 1965 he published Midnight Cowboy, which cemented his reputation as a serious writer.After the success of Midnight Cowboy, Herlihy retreated from the public eye and turned his attention to teaching. He took creative writing posts at the City College of New York, the University of Arkansas, and the University of Southern California. Herlihy died in Los Angeles in 1993 from an overdose of sleeping medication.
From James Leo Herlihy (author of Midnight Cowboy), comes a series of grim yet insightful short stories in his first collection, The Sleep of Baby Filbertson. Both an examination of the darker themes of alienation and isolation, and an elevation of the oddities and quirks that make up human nature, Herlihy’s seven tales tackle the anxieties of fragile people and get to the heart of a world inhabited by perennial outsiders.Agoraphobic Daisy Filbertson and her teenage son Rudy, both addicted to sleeping pills, find themselves frantically running from city to city fueled by Daisy’s manic insistence. A lonely mother tries to start her life over and find a new father for her daughter on an Army base. An immigrant from Uruguay writes letters to his Mamacita while he tries to find himself in the US. And a staunch Baptist has her world challenged when she meets a handsome artist.
"Herlihy sheds a mourning light on the dark nights of the adolescent soul, even with its pain." —New York Herald Tribune Book ReviewMost people in town think sixteen-year-old Clinton Williams’ family is strange. His father, once an outspoken socialist, now searches for answers at the bottom of a glass. His mother has a reputation for scaring children. And his older brother, named Berry-berry, is a traveling vagabond, known by most for his cleft chin, loose morals, and streaks of violence.
Clinton himself is seen as meek, timid, and not quite right as he spends his days filling notebook after notebook, writing down every conversation he can overhear, word for word. Wishing he could contact his wayward brother, Clinton yearns for a day when he too can escape the neighborhood and travel the country. After following a clue to Berry-berry’s whereabouts, Clinton ventures to coastal Florida hoping to find him, but instead gets a firsthand view of his brother’s callous destructiveness that will leave permanent marks on the young man.
"His characters are distinctive. He has a sense of place which he vividly conveys to the reader. Above all there is originality. Mr. Herlihy follows an inspired tradition of contemporary American writing." —Baltimore SunIn his second collection of short stories, James Leo Herlihy explores a landscape of people living on the fringes of normal society as the pleasures of daily life fade. Men and women search for the missing fragment of meaning from their existence with Herlihy’s signature humor and deft dialogue. In the titular story, Mary Ellen McClure is trapped in a dull, unfulfilled life in a trailer park, suspecting her husband of having an affair. Together with her neighbor Ivy, she dabbles with a Ouija board which spells out the name Ezra and implies that Mary Ellen will have an affair. She becomes enamored with the fantasy of this unknown man—at first falling deep into the escapism of the imagined affair, then resolving to find him for real to save her from her stale life. Herlihy’s other gothic tales tell of Consilada Rector, who can’t get people to believe in the leprechaun that presides over her husband’s bar; Mrs. Dorothy Fitzpatrick, who records of the existence of a ghostly mail delivery truck; and a dying man who comes to stay with a mother and her blessed son William.