The celebrated author Harry Mark Petrakis’ ode is his most personal and most reflective.
Readers of his past memoirs may recall some of these stories, but in Song of My Life, Petrakis digs deep, divulging more details than ever before, and even confessing about some of the darker times in his life. He becomes like a character in his own story, and we learn how all these experiences shaped him into the glorious storyteller we have grown to love. In classic Petrakis style, his stories of joy and lament will have you cheering one minute and crying the next.
Petrakis speaks of the childhood illness that led to his love of stories and storytelling. He tells of his life as an aspiring writer—all the jobs he held (and some ever-so-briefly) and all of his misadventures along the way. Getting published was arduous work; it took 10 years of honing his craft and pitching his stories before anyone gave him a chance. He paid his dues, and became one of the greatest storytellers of our time.
Reflecting on his 90+ years, he shares some not-so-proud moments, including how he felt he continually let his family down as he continued to pursue his dream. He reveals details of his gambling addiction, and even a planned suicide attempt. He tells about the trials and tribulations of caring for and living with an elderly parent –how he often resented his mother’s presence, how he ultimately had to lie to her, and the subsequent guilt he carries.
He talks about his time in Hollywood writing screenplays, and ponders how his life would have been so much different, had he chosen certain paths. Throughout the book, we see and feel the abiding love he has for his wife of 70 years, Diana.
In this tome, it is reaffirmed that Petrakis is a part of every character he has created. And this is what makes them all so real, so relatable, and so memorable.
I must confess, as I read the book, I felt like I couldn’t finish it, only due to the irrational thought that when the book ended, so would the life of Petrakis. On the contrary, at 92, the author, last year’s recipient of the coveted Fuller Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, marches on. He continues to write. His son John, a professor and former film critic said at the award presentation that when he sees his dad in his study, typing away, “all is right in the world.” Indeed. May he continue to share the genius of his imagination, for many more years to come.
By: Harry Mark Petrakis
University of South Carolina Press