Joe Gould's Teeth

Knopf. May 2016. 256p. notes. index. ISBN 9781101947586. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101947593. LIT
Lepore (David Woods Kemper '41 Professor of American History, Harvard Univ.; staff writer, The New Yorker; The Secret History of Wonder Woman) tells the story of Joe Gould (1889–1957), a curious footnote of the American modernist literary movement, who long claimed to be working on a nine-million-word text, The Oral History of Our Time. Lepore's engaging book charts her adventures tracking down information about Gould and her fruitless search for the unpublished manuscripts (if they ever even existed). What emerges is the tale of a man from an important New England family who made friends and supporters (such as E.E. Cummings, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, and Ezra Pound) just as quickly as he made enemies and alienated people. In the pages of The New Yorker, Joseph Mitchell elevated the Oral History to mythical status. Though renowned by the intelligentsia, Gould participated in the eugenics movement and sexually harassed women, including Harlem Renaissance sculptor Augusta Savage. Lepore's ultimately sad account touches on racism, sexism, alcoholism, and how America's mental health institutions failed Gould, possibly subjecting him to a lobotomy and electroconvulsive therapy.
VERDICT This book will delight readers interested in the people's history of literary modernism. [See Prepub Alert, 2/21/16.]

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