Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story Of Family Life: The Letters Of J. F. Powers, 1942-1963 by J. F. PowersSuitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story Of Family Life: The Letters Of J. F. Powers, 1942-1963 by J. F. Powers

Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story Of Family Life: The Letters Of J. F. Powers…

byJ. F. PowersEditorKatherine A. Powers

Hardcover | August 20, 2013

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A wry, moving collection of letters from the late J. F. Powers, "a comic writer of genius" (Mary Gordon)

Best known for his 1963 National Book Award-winning novel, Morte D'Urban, and as a master of the short story, J. F. Powers drew praise from Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O'Connor, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth, among others. Though Powers's fiction dwelt chiefly on the lives of Catholic priests, he long planned to write a novel of family life, a feat he never accomplished. He did, however, write thousands of letters, which, selected here by his daughter, Katherine A. Powers, become an intimate version of that novel, dynamic with plot and character. They show a dedicated artist, passionate lover, reluctant family man, pained aesthete, sports fan, and appreciative friend. At times wrenching and sad, at others ironic and exuberantly funny, Suitable Accommodations is the story of a man at odds with the world and, despite his faith, with his church. Beginning in prison, where Powers spent more than a year as a conscientious objector, the letters move on to his courtship, marriage, comically unsuccessful attempt to live in the woods, life in the Midwest and in Ireland, an unorthodox view of the Catholic Church, and an increasingly bizarre search for "suitable accommodations," which included three full-scale emigrations to Ireland. Here, too, are encounters with such diverse people as Thomas Merton, Eugene McCarthy, Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke, Sean O'Faolain, Frank O'Connor, Dorothy Day, and Alfred Kinsey.
An NPR Best Book of 2013

J. F. Powers died in 1999 at the age of eighty-one. His two novels and a collected volume of his short stories are available as NYRB Classics. Katherine A. Powers is a book columnist and reviews books widely.
Title:Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story Of Family Life: The Letters Of J. F. Powers…Format:HardcoverDimensions:480 pages, 9.27 × 6.41 × 1.67 inPublished:August 20, 2013Publisher:Farrar, Straus And GirouxLanguage:English

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ISBN - 10:0374268061

ISBN - 13:9780374268060

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1Fortunately, I am under no obligation to earn a living wageSeptember 8, 1942–November 6, 1945  In 1942, when this story begins, Jim was twenty-five years old and living in Chicago with his parents in their apartment at 4453 North Paulina Street. He had a job at the wholesale book company A. C. McClurg and was also writing. His story “He Don’t Plant Cotton” (whose characters were based on the jazz musicians Baby Dodds, Jimmie Noone, and Lonnie Johnson) was accepted by Accent: A Quarterly of New Literature. The magazine had been founded in 1940 by Kerker Quinn in concert with six other editors, including Charles Shattuck, who became Jim’s most helpful editor and critic.CHARLES SHATTUCK4453 North Paulina StreetChicagoSeptember 8, 1942Dear Mr Shattuck,Naturally, I’m very pleased that the editors of Accent like “He Don’t Plant Cotton” well enough to publish it.1 […]Concerning the who’s who data, this will be my first published story. Aside from the fact that I am 25 and live in Chicago, there is nothing I wish mentioned about me: because those facts, paltry and insignificant, are at least accomplished.Off the record, I work for a wholesale book company. In fact I might even be what the Publishers Weekly and booksellers refer fondly to as “a bookman,” but the bestseller wars have left me, in spite of my tender years, battered and scarred beyond finding much solace in that hallowed term, smacking of crafts and guilds though it does.In italics, I want to get away and, yes, you guessed it, Write. I am not working on a novel now.I do not think my years are tender. Time passing haunts me even more than Space intervening.Thanks once more. I am hoping you will be able to publish the story soon.Sincerely,J. F. PowersJim applied for the status of conscientious objector in November 1940 but was classified 1-A in September 1942. His great friend from his Quincy College Academy days, George Garrelts, ordained a priest in September 1942, was a strong supporter of Jim’s decision to resist military service. After a failed appeal, Jim did not present himself for induction on April 3, 1943. Arrested two weeks later, he spent three days in the Cook County Jail before being released on a thousand-dollar bond. He was indicted by a grand jury on May 6, 1943, and on September 30, 1943, was sentenced to three years at Sandstone Federal Penitentiary in Minnesota. He served thirteen months before being paroled.While inside, Jim was allowed to write two letters a week. He worked in the hospital and, to some extent, on his own writing. Unlikely though it was, and thanks to the friends he made there, prison gave Jim a sense of what life might be for an artist. Among his fellow inmates were a number of cultivated, idealistic men who were also conscientious objectors. Among them were John Marshall, with whom he wrote and produced a play, and two of Frank Lloyd Wright’s apprentices, Jack Howe and Davy Davison. Howe drew up a plan of a farm for Jim that represented to him a more intellectual and cultivated expression of the ideals of the Catholic Worker movement.CHARLOTTE AND BILL KRAFTSandstoneMay 22, 1944Dear Charlotte and Bill,[…] You make your life in New England2 sound attractive—even to me. At times I’ve thought my place to be there. But most of the time I’ve wondered if there is any place for me except in some branch of the government service. There is a justice, hardly poetic, in the way I find myself tied up in destiny with millions of people when what I want most is to be separated from them. […]The weather is nice and I’m tempted to get out of the dormitory, but when I do, there’s only a sandy lot surrounded by concrete walls—and so monotony has the upper hand always. There is no grass. A while ago I saw somebody playing with a small snake. There it was lying in the sand, pushed about by prison shoes, and I guess it will die eventually. It can’t get out either. […]Write when you feel like it—and love.James (Powers) 1939CHARLOTTE AND BILL KRAFTSandstoneJune 11, 1944Dear Charlotte and Bill,[…] This is Sunday in Sandstone, and it has rained intermittently all day. […] The letters from Mother and Daddy brought sad news also—Eric Swenson is dead and Russ Alonzo’s brother, whom I hardly remember … Well, I don’t know what to say about these things. I can only hope these boys thought they were engaged in good work. If so, it’s not so bad, as we must all die sooner or later and it is a privilege to die for something meaningful—however funny that sounds. As Father George says, it is very strange how such fuss is made about certain saints who died for the love of God, the hardships and martyrdom they thrust upon themselves, and yet when millions die for—they don’t know what, most of them—it is not wondered at, except secretly by many afraid to speak out. […]Wm Fifield,3 […] who wrote to me several weeks ago, mentioning that a nun plans to use “Lions”4 in an anthology she’s editing,5 writes again that he is a CO and understands my situation. I had written to him, explaining my inability to write a long letter. […]Love,James (Powers) 1939CHARLOTTE AND BILL KRAFTSandstoneJune 25, 1944Dear Charlotte and Bill,This is Sunday again, and it’s hot. […] Despite the play and story I’ve done since coming here, it is impossible to work. Absolute absence of privacy and solitude and silence—makes James a disgusted boy. And then when a day like this comes along, I can’t even escape my own body, which sweats and twists under the heat. That is why I hate summer and why I am happy whenever it is raining and grey. I look out the window now, see across the dusty yards, and there on benches the inmates sit and talk and doze. For all my indolence, I have no talent for that sort of thing. I guess it is the equivalent in my mind of the way Mother and Daddy used to sit out on the back porch. How to spend a lifetime in an evening. […]Fr George writes of the nice lady parishioner who came to see him about her soul and, more immediately, her finances. She wanted him to recommend a good investment. He recommended the poor. She appealed to common sense. Fr George told her she’d better come back and see the pastor. I’m rather dazed to hear the sermons at your church are strange and different and literate. What a relief it must be for you not to hear about picnics and carnivals. […]Love,James (Powers) 1939CHARLOTTE AND BILL KRAFTSandstoneJuly 21, 1944Dear Charlotte and Bill,[…] I just finished a letter to Mother and Daddy in which I told them my ideas about political conventions and farms for the future. The farm is more than usually on my mind because I saw the complete plans the night before last. About six or seven cottages, a twin building joined by a walk: place to eat in one (including a fireplace, huge and “roaring”) and a little theatre in the other (including projection room for movies, mostly “foreign”). Finally, a barn. A barn such as I cd not have imagined and which even now I can hardly understand, for the architect (one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s young geniuses)6 understands the needs and whims of chickens, hogs, horses, cows, and all the rest. The entire project would cost between $50 and $60,000. Which I am told is less than the same number of buildings wd cost if they were (which they aren’t) ugly and cheap. I know of course you are wondering what we get to drink here that makes me talk loosely about that much money. It is not so much, considering my literary prospects (not what I’ll make from books, but the people I’ll meet). Anyway, that’s the setup. Something beyond a pension to work for. I’m wheeling and dealing where I can. […]The sky is beautiful today—peace, it’s wonderful—and I can’t remember the sky being like this anywhere else. A different feature daily. I was thinking today (while watching the clouds) how far I’ve traveled from the canoe trips I took with Ramona7 around the Chain of Lakes. I told you she got married January 1943, but did I tell you that she expected a baby in November? Well, she’s all taken care of, and it’s a good thing, I’m thinking, for me. She never meant what she said about being different. It took Fr George to detect that a long time ago: the first time he met her.8 […] Listened to the convention tonight and lost a bag of cookies on Wallace.9Love,Jim (Powers)MARIELLA GABLESandstoneAugust 1, 1944Dear Sister Mariella,The authorities have graciously permitted me to write a special purpose letter to you.I was very happy to hear that you wish to use my work and feel indebted to William Fifield and Harry Sylvester for bringing it to your attention. […]Since leaving Chicago, escorted by a U.S. marshal, I have been doing time at Sandstone prison in Minnesota. The “rap”: failure to report for induction, or conscientious objection to war. For me, the project and prison have been gifts from heaven, periodically bewildering as such, but essentially blessings. I have had the honor of living among men of goodwill in these places, a few of the uncelebrated, if not unknown, victims of peace and war in our age “of moderate virtue and of moderate vice.”10[…]In Christ,J. F. PowersCHARLOTTE AND BILL KRAFTSandstoneAugust 4, 1944Dear Charlotte and Bill,[…] I have hopes for a merrier Xmas this year than last: I’m assured on all sides the war will be over and it is very probable I’ll be out on parole and settled, as it were, by then. As a matter of fact, if Washington okays my parole, I may make it by September. […]Fr George is (or recently was) in Oakmont for a retreat, and a fellow here is going to Oakmont next week to work for Fr Farina.11 Took a lot of accounting at Creighton University and came here as a Catholic CO and now knows accounting is as far from his heart as murder, and will donate his life to such work as Fr Farina and the CW movement entails.You ask about the farm of the future. You are right: there will be no advertising or insurance men about (unless of course they have mended their ways). You are wrong: there will be no arty people passing through in the summer as though it were Wisconsin Dells. Who lives there lives there. No part time. It will not be a tourist camp. We will get our living from the earth. A living is not so much as the light companies and grocers try to make city people think. It will be a risk of course. I’m dead sure “risk” is the magic word. The condition of the cities is due to the fact that people will not risk anything to live. They would rather die for not living—it is a slow process like an all-day sucker.12 A slow process, even if it isn’t any good. If you’ll watch the forthcoming Life magazines, you’ll see some specimens of F. L. Wright’s work. It will be an article on “Broadacre City,” Mr Wright’s dream city. My farm is the work of a fellow whom Mr Wright called “the finest draughtsman he ever met.”13 […] And now, once more, my love to both of you.James (Powers) 1939CHARLOTTE AND BILL KRAFTSandstoneAugust 18, 1944Dear Charlotte and Bill,[…] The weather here is cool again, and the trees in the distant bluffs are changing color, just beginning to, and I am told the summer has practically spent itself. I am glad. […] I read “Renner,”14 and it doesn’t sound as bad as I was afraid it might—I’ve changed here: am not so quick to see tragedy where I did. I used to give the businessmen a rough go, and the mistake was in limiting such treatment too much to them. The innocents I find are ever harder to find than before. I am thinking of alleged pacifist societies and related groups. More than before I realize that pacifism alone is no use. It is an essential part of Christianity: there is the root—not in pacifism or labor unions or education. This means, then, I was somewhat taken in by “do-good” organizations; it does not mean the business boys, the common sensers, get off any easier. Being here has matured me. There are people and types of endeavor—architecture, for instance, which I was hardly conscious of. And they all have their way out for humanity. […]Love,James (Powers) 1939CHARLOTTE AND BILL KRAFTSandstoneSeptember 1, 1944Dear Charlotte and Bill,[…] I’m writing this letter from the barbershop, where I’m waiting my turn. There are three chairs, and tonight the library and hospital workers get theirs. […] Sometimes I feel I must have checked my brain and responsibility (to myself) at the front gate when I came in and they were mailed home with my clothes. I won’t ask again about Bill’s deferment, but only hope he stays unmolested where he is. There are train tracks within whistling distance, and when they sound in the night, and the dogs bark, you know you’re in jail. […]Love,James (Powers) 1939CHARLOTTE AND BILL KRAFTSandstoneOctober 8, 1944Dear Charlotte and Bill,Sunday, about 9:00 in the morning, and I’m sitting at a big long table in the dayroom, listening to some wonderful Negro spiritual singing. […]We must pray that Dick survives and that Mother and Daddy are spared further sorrows.15 I feel my parole will take a weight off their minds, despite my assurances that I was and am all right here, which is the truth. They were never able to believe that, I always suspected. When you were home, did you feel that they worried about my being here much? Did the neighbors make them feel embarrassed? Now the spirituals have stopped and it is white hymn singing, which, as far as I’m concerned, is something else. This is a chill bleak day, the trees in the distance are many colors and I should very much like to walk through them. […]All at once, with a date set for my departure, I find myself engaged in counting the days—an old practice among jailbirds. I have, of this writing, 23 days and a “get,” which means “get up.” I’ll leave on the 9:39 train on the morning of November 1—All Saints’ Day—a Wednesday. I’ll be paid $50 a month at St Joseph’s16 and furnished with a room and meals. That isn’t bad—especially the room. Not waking up in the morning in the midst of a multitude. Pray for Dick.Love,James (Powers) 1939CHARLOTTE AND BILL KRAFTSandstoneOctober 19, 1944Dear Charlotte and Bill,[…] This is the best time of the year for me, and I’m glad to think I’ll see and smell some of it this year. I’m writing this on my lunch hour, birch trees stick up in the distance like white whiskers. The sky is dull grey and blue. […] How I wish I had my typewriter, or the right to use one, when I look at my handwriting. Now a train is whistling across the frozen plains, and of course I’m put in mind of November. Till I hear from you again—Happy Days.James (Powers) 1939Jim was paroled on November 1, 1944, and, as a condition of his release, was assigned a job as an orderly at St. Joseph’s Hospital, St. Paul, Minnesota. At first his duties included work in the morgue, an assignment he found unbearable; later he was given the job of sterilizing instruments on the night shift.CHARLES SHATTUCKSt Joseph’s HospitalSt Paul, MinnesotaNovember 3, 1944Dear Mr Shattuck,This will be a note, no more, to let you know I am out in the world again. I was paroled to this hospital November 1, All Saints’ Day. You wouldn’t think the government had such a feel for the liturgy. I am in my room in an adjoining building known as the Boys’ Dormitory. So far the majority of the Boys are still in the throes of having solemnized Pay Day. That’s the way one nun explained it to me. They are maintenance men and so forth and like the Middle Ages, the strange, maimed flock that always attaches itself to Catholic institutions. Civil Service wd never stand for them. When they find out I am a conscientious objector, they will either canonize or slaughter me … […]Had to move a still sweaty stiff, fat too, around in the autopsy room yesterday. Wish T. S. Eliot might have been there. I will probably settle down to work in the operating rooms and orderly. Today I worked from seven to three, which leaves a good hunk of the day to me. Marred today by necessity to report to Police (as I’m one convicted of a felony), and it’s funny to see them trying to take the questions and fingerprinting and photography seriously, all the rigmarole designed to keep society safe. […]Will send you something if I can write something. I may have ossified under censorship and indolence. […]Jim PowersJOHN MARSHALLSt Joseph’s HospitalSt Paul, Minnesota[Late 1944 or early 1945]Dear Marsh,Friday evening and I have just received your card. […] I have just been lying here on my bed, waiting for a certain bug to bite me again (presently, I don’t know where he is on my person) and considering the nature of the religious who run places like this hospital: the latter train of thought precipitated by what we had, or didn’t have for supper tonight. I ate a piece of bread and a glass of milk and left the scene of the crime. Fortunately, I am under no obligation to earn a living wage and can go out and eat a meal when this happens (this week, four times). […] Write to me again, especially when you run out of postcards. And God—not the God of institutions—may He bless you.JimJOHN MARSHALLSt Joseph’s HospitalSt Paul, MinnesotaApril 9, 1945Dear Marsh,I rec’d yours this morning and derive some consolation from your misery, as it seemed to take the edge off mine. You at least are a young man and have your life before you. Me, I am growing old and fast. I am moreover like a fish thrown up on a sandbank and left to lie there in the sun. I am speaking of the jolly hospital and, as Private Carr wd say, the fucking medical profession. Don’t say a word against the fucking medical profession! All of which means things are beginning to catch up with me. The sunniness is gone out of my mien (remember?). Last Thursday and again Saturday (supposed to be my “day off”) I worked till nigh on midnight cleaning up the morgue after the fucking medical profession. My sands are running out. I am not writing.More and more I am considering the uselessness of trying to sandwich in a little sense in all this nonsense. There is no room for writing in my days and nights. The only extracurricular vocation open to me is that of the alcoholic. One could be drunk fairly regularly and get by. There are provisions for that. But when one is trying to set down something in writing and it grieves one’s soul to see how it comes out, and then just when some of the awfulness, through work and revision, is going out of it, there comes the call to the post room.17 What then? I am in love with the idea of nihilism and tolerable of unions. The first settles this hash for good, and the other comes to hard terms with it. I have thought of working a transfer somewhere, not that I’m sure it isn’t this way everywhere and always, but I know it’s a forlorn project. I have only my reasons. I can’t think of a single one of theirs—and them’s the ones that count. […]I have letters from editors wanting things, and I can’t get time to produce them. The time I get is hardly enough to type them. I am becoming a has-been without ever having really been. Now, I don’t want to mislead you into thinking I actually think my chips are all cashed in, but I do want you to know, as I’m beginning to, this spare-time creation ain’t what I cracked it up to be in jail. Peace. Write.JimJOHN MARSHALLSt Joseph’s HospitalSt Paul, MinnesotaApril 27, 1945Dear Marsh,A line from the hospital. No enemas, etc., at the moment. […] I am simply moldering. I am constantly tired. I walked down to the river after supper tonight. It is good down there. Things can be seen for miles: trains, limestone cliffs, the river losing and finding itself in the sun. But I haven’t the power to do more than fall on a bench and listen and look in a daze not of my own making. I wonder if I am physically deficient—or whether indolence has reached the tertiary state with me. […]I think if I had nothing to do—no work—I’d be all right. But I must say that it seems strange that I am not up to sweating for my daily bread like the others. God, it is often said, gives what he intends to take away, and only enough of whatever it is to go around. It seems now that I am only getting enough—to the last drop—to get me through the days. I find, on rereading this, I’m pouring out my heart to you. It all comes, probably, from the fact that I’m not writing anything these days. I don’t feel quite the cad I did a few months ago; then, it seemed, I had a little time. Now I have none which doesn’t suffer from the effect of rising and retiring. In and out of bed. A bug in a glass. […]Pax,JimJim found a girlfriend in a young woman, just out of high school, who also worked at the hospital. “Hugs and kisses, nothing else,” she reported in a letter after Jim’s death. “He coaxed me into giving him my high-school ring—I had just graduated. I left for nurses’ training in September. […] He never returned the ring.”JOHN MARSHALLSt Joseph’s HospitalSt Paul, MinnesotaJune 18, 1945Dear Marsh,Rec’d your letter today and was very happy to have it. I should have answered your previous one before this, but it was so full of things hard to write about and I kept thinking there’d come a day. There didn’t, so I must simply say, as we say in the Men’s Dining Room here, It’s rough and tough and hard to stay with. You are indeed a very sensitive and complicated person, as even somebody like Domrese18 could see, and the world is made to smash you if you are that and not some more things besides. Since you are some more things, you will be all right, I think. In fact I think I should be in the same boat if I were so fortunate, or unfortunate, as to be knee-deep in quail, the way you are.I had my first chance, the first that was really right from all angles and especially the physical, in the last two or three weeks, but I put my foot down, thus hamstringing the moment for the comforts of the long view. I see myself a little better now and do not sally forth with quite the abandon, with only a heavy cargo of fine expressions which usually came to something else in the minds of my loved ones, but that was all right then as I kept hammering away at what I meant, which was usually something about beauty or life’s tough and why not make the most of it, and all the time I was getting my carnal share. But my problems are not over by any means in that respect. I page through Harper’s Bazaar and see several women each month I’d seriously consider settling down with if they weren’t just in Harper’s Bazaar,19 so you can see I am still entertaining the idea of crossing over.But now to other things. Quite a few people like the CW 20 stuff, and quite a few don’t; it splits up into those who think of me as the fine young writer of fine short stories and those who welcome a little propaganda from any quarter and don’t know much about the other. But I, as you suspect, know what I’m doing. Watch the CW as I have another coming and it’s got its boots laced way up to here. After all I am, as I always maintained, a simple soul and simply don’t want my sons (if I can get my wife out of Harper’s Bazaar) to be a fuckin’ soldier.I am moving into other quarters. To the Marlborough. That is an old red stone dump creaking with age and old women where I will have two rooms, so to speak, by the grace of God and a piece of molding bisecting them, and a toilet I can call my own as well as a bathtub that sits out in one of the rooms with a lid on it. Sounds like (that letter) a fine setup for an old deflowerer of Quaker womanhood like yourself, the one-balled fury. It is a block from the cathedral, but truth to tell I don’t intend to do much about that. The view is the thing, looking out over the City of St Paul and farther over the river and into the distant sun-swept hills. When I told Weinstein21 this, he said ah ha at last you are set up in the approved Esquire style. Then—sound of distant trumpets—I begin to write. […] See you around. Let me hear from you.JimFor a few months, Jim shared his place at the Marlborough on Summit Avenue in St. Paul with Ted LeBerthon, a newspaperman, critic, and writer who was involved with the Catholic Worker movement.JOHN MARSHALL150 Summit AvenueSt Paul, MinnesotaJuly 9, 1945Dear Marsh,[…]Your schedule literally knocks me out, just to scan through. How can you do it? I do not mean to express only amazement but curiosity. I want to know for my own sake. I find myself constantly weary, dropping in and out of bed in a way I never did before. I mean before the Stone. I was talking to a fellow who was hot on B Complex, but you know how lukewarm I am about anything in packages or via machinery, like your shortwave set. If I get some of this B Complex, it will be like going in to buy some condoms, that painful—which by the way I managed to do only once, in Juarez, and I was not moving only under my own power at the time. So you might, from what you know of my case, put a couple of dogs on it and let me know how it turns out. I have a lot of work to do and will never make it in my present condition. […]Now it is 10:30 in the evening, and I must go down the hill to the hospital. My American Sterilizer is waiting on a park bench for me. I work nights now, you know. 11–7. Get a couple of hours sitting or reading in. No posts.22 Few people. Little food. Some heat. Also deliver ice at sunup. I am a familiar figure with my ice and tongs. I can’t recall whether I told you I had moved: two rooms with a view.JimFather Harvey Egan became Jim’s greatest correspondent and an extraordinarily generous literary patron. He was also an industrious writer and sender of pamphlets, the subjects of which changed with his own galloping enthusiasms. Like Garrelts, Egan was, at this time, a zealous Detacher; that is to say, both priests were adherents of the rigorously ascetic movement known as Detachment.23 Still, Egan’s embrace of this persuasion did not affect his passion for baseball, horse racing, boxing, and hockey.HARVEY EGANThe MarlboroughJust off Leicester SquareOld St Paul’sJuly 25, 1945Dear Reverend,I’m going to give you one more chance before taking my cause to a higher authority. I am not ignorant of the sender of a series of cryptic missives received by me or my servants. The single, dread word “Detacher” is enough. I will not pretend to be unaffected. I am, as it would be foolish to deny, a man with a past. But I have paid my debt to society once, nay, a hundredfold, for I was in the beginning, as I am now, and ever shall be, an innocent man. I was, in fine, a Jansenist, a great follower of Baius,24 Quesnel,25 and the Saints26 (Lanahan Blanks Blues, 3–0), yes, I guess I had my fun and there’s still the piper to pay. But you are not the piper, Reverend Sir, and if it is not clear that I wish to put all that you and your ill-starred ilk represent behind me, then, forsooth, as I say, I shall seek out justice from the highest authority in the land. I have already sought action from a prelate I imagined to be your superior (he lives up the street from me), but my letter has been returned, initialed it is true, but saying only, “No longer with us. Try the Methodists or Presbyterians. Sorry.” If you are, as His Excellency seems to believe, now with these other sects, the next threatening note or sign I have from you or any other practitioner of Detachismus will send me scurrying after protection, peace, and justice (else this war be mockery!), yes, I’ll not stop short of Harry27 himself. I have spoken. Take heed.J.a.S.S.W.F.O.I.T.Just a Simple Soul Who Found Out in Time.P.S. To think I once thought butter sinful!JOHN MARSHALL150 Summit Avenue(the home of happy feet)September 13, 1945Dear Marsh,I am tearing this off in the wee hours of the morning. You came to mind as I entered the realm of X-ray, cystoscopy, diathermy. […] As for your private life, in some lamentable respects, it resembles my own, and I think I’ll just skip that. I can go to confession. I don’t know what you can do … wait it out, I suppose. I use that sometimes myself, instead of confession, as confession in some circumstances strikes me as the easy way out (a way to miss the meaning, destroy the chance of changing through experience); too much so. I do not believe I’ll get married, ever. If so, it will be like lightning. I do not expect to be hit by that either. And I will not even go so far as to say, on the other hand, you never know … I see too much too soon in women to get very far along.Recently, I’ve had glimmers of what a challenge it would be honestly to try to be a saint; glimmers in all the darkness, one or two or three. I am not much tempted, in what I imagine to be the classical sense (St Anthony), but all it comes to is “something to do” instead of cheering or barking, a chance to wag my tail over something one degree more than nothing. Sometimes I enjoy music more (do you know Ravel, La Valse?), but music is a sometimes thing. Sex, on the other hand, always affords that minor lift—or the idea at bottom does, if not it itself. The small pleasure of pulling one’s fingers out of the dike; the sorrow soon after; the struggle to get the dike in shape again. Tick, tock, night, day, night … if the square root of death is one hour, you know it is not so long, life, and every hour in between is, if you could only let yourself see it, you would get up and leave this interminable double feature after the thousandth time you saw it. Write.JimElizabeth “Betty” Wahl had graduated that spring from the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, four miles from St. John’s in Collegeville, Minnesota. She had been Sister Mariella Gable’s prize student and was now living at home with her parents in nearby St. Cloud, working as a bookkeeper for her father Art Wahl’s construction company. She was also writing a novel under the tutelage of Sister Mariella, who eventually asked Jim to read the manuscript and come up to St. Benedict’s to discuss it. One cannot help seeing matchmaking on Gable’s part and starry-eyed aspiration on Betty’s. Twenty-one years old, romantic, and worshipful, Betty considered the ideal marriage to be union with the mind, body, and soul of a great artist. As for Jim, he was clearly in the mood to be hit by lightning.MARIELLA GABLE150 Summit AvenueOctober 15, 1945Dear Sister Mariella,[…] I shall be pleased to read Miss Wahl’s book, only asking that you send it on and give me until, say, sometime in early November to get it read and up there to talk about it, as you suggest. […] I am conscious of the possible irony in my criticizing the work of someone who has turned out 70,000 words at 21, words which you must not think badly of. But we shall see. I guess I might have more to my credit if I’d been born a girl or as I am with money enough so I wouldn’t have to work at the nonsense I always have had to, or if the call to the colors hadn’t gone out when I was ripe for them, or, as Ted LeBerthon says, if my aunt had whiskers she’d be my uncle. I am amused that you found me a “stripling.” I wish I were five years younger at least. […] Ted LeBerthon, who now lives with me on the sixth floor of this old brownstone ghost of a building, is 53, and most of the time it seems to be the other way around. We can still lie awake at night (Sundays, when I don’t work, anyway) and talk. It is something I used to do as a child and again in high school (the chances of our team in the state tournament) and also when I graduated and hit Chicago (Pater, Huysmans, Baudelaire, Symons). But I don’t think I’ll want to talk in bed when I’m 53. […]JFPMARIELLA GABLE150 Summit AvenueOctober 23, 1945Dear Sister Mariella,A line to let you know I rec’d your letter and the MS today. I have just finished the first chapter and without going any further would be willing to bet on the book and with more certainty on future books from Miss Wahl. The title, I think, is very bad: the first paragraph likewise. But after that it rides right along. […] There is a very rare honesty, it seems to me, about the first chapter. I am even a little awestruck by it. […] I like especially the ease with which Miss Wahl writes. Shattuck (of Accent) would love it. I have a private opinion ease comes easier with women. […] A woman I know, the mother of a close friend, works as a saleslady in a department store. She used to run out and rub the back of a hunchback, calling him “old huncher,” for good luck. I was fascinated with the idea of it, or not only the idea (the cruelty of it lurking at several removes) but this particular woman involved in it, but the more I said it in various ways to myself the further I got away from the art of the thing. […]Best,JimMARIELLA GABLE150 Summit AvenueNovember 1, 1945Dear Sister Mariella,I think I ought to tell you the weekend of the 11th looks likely. […] I will say I think the book ought and—which is more—will be published. I would offer the services of my agents28 if Miss Wahl would care to have them. […] But we can talk about that too. I should want (if my criticism is to be abided by, and I am not sure I wish it so) to go through every chapter. Such things as the candle making, the Sister who presides there, should be the case more often in this book. I feel something about the place (St Benedict’s) is very wonderful and unique and deserves more going into than it gets. But, as before, more anon.Best. Pax.MARIELLA GABLE150 Summit AvenueNovember 6, 1945Dear Sister Mariella,[…] I have been negotiating with buses and trains and nuns. […] It might be easier for all of us for you to leave the convent and for Miss Wahl to run away from home. […]Pax.Jim finally met Betty Wahl on Saturday, November 10, 1945, and proposed marriage to her two days later. She accepted. Copyright © 2013 by Powers Family Literary Property Trust

Table of Contents


Introduction by Katherine A. Powers xiii
A Note on the Text xxiii

1. Fortunately, I am under no obligation to earn a living wage
September 8, 1942-November 6, 1945 1

2. With you it will be like being ten years old again
November 12, 1945-November 29, 1945 23

3. Should a giraffe have to dig dandelions?
December 4, 1945-January 26, 1946 37

4. It would seem you have the well-known business sense
January 29, 1946-February 14, 1946 53

5. I am like Daniel Boone cutting my way through that bourgeois wilderness
February 14, 1946-April 26, 1946 63

6. Something seems to be missing, and you say it's me
Memorial Day 1946-April 3, 1947 77

7. Camaraderie
July 9, 1947-October 14, 1947 87

8. I've a few stipulations to read into the rural-life-family-life jive
November 6, 1947-April 5, 1948 107

9. The truth about me is that I just don't qualify as the ideal husband
July 1948-Christmas 1948 123

10. If you can't win with me, stop playing the horses!
January 18, 1949-September 6, 1949 135

11. I'm beyond the point where I think the world is waiting for me as for the sunrise
September 19, 1949-October 7, 1951 147

12. The water, the green, the vines, stone walls, the pace, all to my taste
November 7, 1951-November 3, 1952 161

13. In Ireland, I am an American. Here, I'm nothing
Christmas 1952-June 3, 1953 181

14. A place too good to believe we live in
October 5, 1953-April 14, 1954 193

15. I had a very fine time-laughing as I hadn't in years
April 23, 1954-July 14, 1954 201

16. There have been times, though not recently, when it has seemed to me that I might escape the doom of man
September 2, 1954-January 10, 1956 209

17. Four children now, Jack. And this year, the man said, bock beer is not available in this area
February 29, 1956-August 24, 1956 217

18. The Man Downstairs is entertaining tonight. Pansy and Dwight are quiet
September 25, 1956-January 12, 1957 231

19. This room is like a dirty bottle, but inside is vintage solitude
January 23, 1957-August 1, 1957 253

20. Scabrous Georgian, noble views of the sea, turf in the fireplaces
October 14, 1957-February 13, 1958 267

21. The office is in Dublin, on Westland Row
February 26, 1958-July 23, 1958 289

22. About Don, I haven't been the same since I read your letter
July 26, 1958-November 29, 1958 307

23. Back and wondering why
December 22, 1958-August 25, 1959 323

24. The J. F. Powers Company: "The Old Cum Permissu Superiorum Line"
September 19, 1959-June 14, 1960 341

25. No money is the story of my life
July 6, 1960-April 3, 1962 357

26. The day was like other days, with the author napping on the floor in the middle of the afternoon
April 12, 1962-September 1962 375

27. As a winner, let me say you can't win, not on this course
October 23, 1962-August 29, 1963 385

28. Ireland grey and grey and grey, then seen closer, green, green, green
September 23, 1963-Christmas 1963 401

Afterword: Growing Up in This Story 417

Appendix: Cast of Characters 423
Source Notes 433
Acknowledgments 435
Index 437

Editorial Reviews

"A major literary accomplishment" -Booklist (Starred review)"In these letters, Powers shows a winning modesty, playing neither the whining, unappreciated artist nor the man the fates have treated unfairly. Drollery abounds: If an American is ever made pope, he writes to a friend, he should take the name Bingo." -Joseph Epstein, The Wall Street Journal"There are times when you want to wring Powers's neck, but you can't help caring about him, liking him, rooting for him....I do wish that Powers would find the readers he deserves, just as Peter Taylor did against almost all the odds, but he seems fated to be a writer known to too few, like Isabel Colegate, J.G. Farrell or Mordecai Richler. Pretty good company, it says here." -Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post"What's amazing, given this meandering and self-mortifying life, is how often Suitable Accommodations made me laugh..devotees of the author's work.will recognize his voice in an instant: droll, delicious, resigned to the mass production of human folly, including his own." -James Marcus, The Los Angeles Times"[Suitable Accommodations] reads like a fully realized epistolary novel, by turns exasperating and poignant and always funny." -D. G. Myers, The Daily Beast".observant, witty, and self-deprecating. " -Paul Elie, Harper's"Fascinating, funny, and disturbing." -Minneapolis Star Tribune"These vibrant letters. reveal a restless, promising writer and family man with a wry sense of humor and a hunger for literary camaraderie.this collection serves as a touching portrait of one writer's struggle." -Publishers Weekly"One of the funniest, most socially exact, heartrending and thoroughly enjoyable writers alive." -Jonathan Raban, The Sunday Times (London)"I see no limit to his possible achievement." -Evelyn Waugh, CommonWealth