BookFilter Reviews The Abominable Mr. Seabrook

“BookFilter Reviews The Abominable Mr. Seabrook” / BookFilter / Michael Giltz / January 24, 2017

Nope, I'd never heard of journalist William Seabrook either. He was a pulpy, popular writer who specialized in lurid tales and travelogues in which he himself took part in the adventures. Seabrook had several best-selling books, popularized the term "zombie" in a book about Haiti (in which he treated the religion of voodoo with respect), rode with bedouins in the Middle East and boasted of eating human flesh with cannibals in Africa. (That was only half true -- he ate human flesh, but it was cooked up for him in Paris). At one point Seabrook was among the highest paid writers in the US and hobnobbed with the likes of Aldoux Huxley, Gertrude Stein, Man Ray and many others. On the other hand, he was also a dreadful drunk with a compulsive need to tie women up in chains and other restraints, a fact dealt with to varying degrees of reasonableness by three long-suffering wives. Joe Ollmann's biography of this minor footnote of a talent is both unsparing and kind, treating Seabrook's career with the seriousness it deserves but never using that as an excuse to overlook his sometimes boorish, always self-destructive behavior. Ollmann's black and white drawings soften this descent into miserableness, perhaps by giving us a little distance between the man and his failings. I doubt a movie version would be nearly as easy to trudge through the last sad act in which Seabrook drank and drank and finally committed suicide. Somehow, a text biography would become tiresome (how often can you write that Seabrook, yet again, threw up) while a film would simply be unpleasant. A comic book allows Ollmann to simply show Seabrook turning to a bucket or trash can yet again or merely looking like death warmed over -- visually, it's funny, sad, honest and yet offered up with a straight-forward dispatch that needn't wallow. I do know anyone who reads this first-rate biography will want to seek out his books about serving in WW I, travels to the Middle East and Haiti and quite a few more. Ollmann brings everything to life: his work, his wives, the mistreated employees, the enabling agents and editors, the people he met along the way and especially the frustrating, self-defeating, fascinating and indeed abominable Mr. Seabrook. -- Michael Giltz

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