What does it mean for a boy to decide to become a writer when his dad is already a star in the same profession? Is it inspiring, or crippling? Does Dad help with advice and support and contacts, or does he see his kid as a rival?
Hill reckons that sons either feel in the shadow of their father, or in the light that he casts on their future. If they are lucky, they see the light. But that brings its own problems: the son can feel that he’s never going to measure up.
There are plenty of cases in history where a writer son is not quite as extraordinary as his dad, although he seems to get along pretty well. What, for example, did Charles Dickens jnr feel about his famous father? He took over Dad’s magazine All The Year Round after his father’s death, wrote a series of dictionaries, teamed up with Wilkie Collins to write a sequel to his father’s half-finished novel, Edwin Drood, and wrote introductions to later editions of father’s novels. No genius, but he had a busy and successful career. I hope he saw it that way.
Sometimes fathers and sons collaborate. Nelson DeMille, celebrated by his publisher as ‘‘America’s Greatest Living Thriller Writer’’, has just brought out a new novel, The Deserter, written with his son Alex DeMille, an award-winning screenwriter and film director. Stephen King’s other writer son, Owen King, collaborated with Dad on the novel Sleeping Beauties.
And sometimes we remember the son at least as much as the father. Witness Alexandre Dumas, pere et fils; Andre Dubus II and Andre Dubus III; and James Wright and his son Franz Wright, the only father and son who each won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry. When Franz sent an early poem to his father, the reply came back: ‘‘You’re a poet. Welcome to hell.’’
Alas, father-son writer relationships can also be hell. The most notorious stories concern Kingsley Amis and his son Martin, who said his father was never interested in his work: ‘‘I can point out the exact moment when he stopped and sent Money twirling through the air; that’s where the character of Martin Amis comes in.’’
Jane Sullivan’s latest book, Storytime, is published by Ventura Press at $26.99.