Friday, January 28, 2011

Barnaby Conrad Revisits John Wilkes Booth

Conrad, after 60 years, keeps a promise he made with Sinclair Lewis.

From a piece in the New York Times...

The last time Barnaby Conrad saw Sinclair Lewis, three years after he served as Lewis’s personal secretary, they were at a bar in Paris and, by Mr. Conrad’s account, Lewis was thoroughly drunk. But not so drunk that he couldn’t chastise his former secretary for failing to execute a book idea that Lewis had handed him one morning at breakfast: a novel based on the conceit that John Wilkes Booth had escaped capture after assassinating Lincoln and had embarked on a secret life in the American frontier.

“You are never going to be a writer unless you write that book,” declared Lewis, the Nobel Prize-winning author of “Elmer Gantry” and “Babbitt,” as Mr. Conrad recounted the moment recently. Talk about pressure. “It was always on my mind,” he said.

That was 1950, shortly before Lewis’s death. And now, 60 years later — this must set a record for late authors — Mr. Conrad has published “The Second Life of John Wilkes Booth.” The novel follows the arc of the story Lewis sketched out: from Booth’s escape from the barn where history has him cornered and killed by Union soldiers, to a frontier town where, after being goaded into playing Lincoln at a county pageant, he was assassinated by a drunken fellow Lincoln hater.

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