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Review: Keep This Quiet! – Margaret A. Harrell

March 6, 2012

“This is my life,

I’m satisfied.

So watch it, babe.

Don’t try to keep me tied.”

And I Like It –JeffersonAirplane

In the ever expanding list of biographies and memoirs about Hunter S. Thompson, this latest offering, Keep This Quiet! by Margaret A. Harrell, is quite simply a breath of fresh air. This is by no means intended as a slight against previous publications, the majority of which are solid and have contributed much to our understanding of Hunter S. Thompson – the man and the myth. However, what sets Keep This Quiet! apart is the extent to which Harrell explores the question of identity and myth, in her quest to simultaneously answer questions concerning her own character and that of one Hunter S. Thompson. As Harrell writes early on – “Who was he? There was no indication how complicated that answer was.”

Keep This Quiet! is a fascinating memoir in this regard, one that is multi-faceted in terms of Harrell’s own journey of self-discovery, both in a personal and artistic sense and the manner in which this is mirrored by the events of the period, with the tumultuous Sixties marking a nation tragically losing its innocence courtesy of the assassins bullet and the toil of war. It is also, of course, a time of exuberant creativity and this is evident throughout, with Harrell also detailing her relationship with “poète maudit” Jan Mensaert andGreenwich Village “poet genius” Milton Klonsky. Working at Random House placed Harrell at the centre of a literary world and this is reflected by the many different characters that make an appearance – from Hunter’s oldest friends William Kennedy and David Pierce to non other than Oscar Zeta Acosta, of whom Harrell includes rare letters that he sent to her concerning getting published at Random House.

It is Harrell’s insight into the development of Thompson both as an author and a character that truly set this memoir apart. There are two quotes in particular that illustrate this understanding – the first is a quote of Thompson’s that Harrell singles out as key to understanding his motivation as an author (incidentally one that I have also identified in my PhD – a nice bit of synchronicity):

            “The psychology of imposition…the need to amount to something”…”if only for an instant, the image of the man is imposed on the chaotic        mainstream of life and it remains there forever: order out of chaos, meaning out of meaninglessness.”

The above quote comes from a letter in The Proud Highway and Harrell is absolutely correct in singling it out for its importance. As Harrell states – “Like Faulkner, Hunter wanted to leave his life in stone tablets, mark time with a sign KILROY WAS HERE.” To understand this in relation to Hunter and how it shaped his creative development is absolutely essential.

In closing, this book is a joy to read, particularly for anyone that has that urge to express themselves through the creative arts in all their forms. In terms of its importance to the Hunter S. Thompson world I would have to say that there are not many other books out there that have the same intimate understanding of the man behind the myth. Keep This Quiet is not just a reflection on the past but also a rediscovery of that period, with a new understanding of the events and the people that populated that particular corner of the era of rapid change and growth, one of both personal discovery and cultural revolution, whose effects to this day are still rippling across the consciousness of the American psyche.

PS: I meant to post this review ages ago but I have been crazy crazy busy with my PhD. I hope to also post a review of the upcoming record from Paris Records – The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved and also report on the trip of a wayward American in South America. Stay tuned!

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian F. permalink
    March 7, 2012 8:45 pm

    This book was very interesting in which we see Thompson trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with a woman other than his wife. Ms. Harrell writes that at the time she was lead to believe by others that HST and his wife Sandy had an open relationship (this wasn’t so). Regardless, we DO see a side of Thompson that gives even more depth to behind-the-scenes circumstances in HST’s life; like how the effect of Sandy having tragically one of her miscarriages with Thompson (not sure if it was the stillborn baby or not) had on his life, not to mention his wife’s!
    Ms. Harrell wisely did not rely solely on Thompson for company. She had long relationships with an established New York writer and an unrattling artist from Europe. So, good portions of the book are dedicated to these men as well.
    My main complaint with the book was, even though Ms. Harrell magnificently edited HST’s ‘Hells Angels’, maybe a third of the way into her book I found many punctuation errors, nonsensical sentences, spelling errors, etc., here and there. Maybe I had a bad edition, or maybe these days editors aren’t as careful as they used to be in Ms. Harrell’s day.
    Overall, a good book, interesting for some new looks at HST, but not great.

    • March 7, 2012 9:12 pm

      It is definitely different to the other books out there. I think the fact that it shows another side to Hunter is valuable. I think there is room for more books that explore the man and don’t get consumed with the myth and endless “Hunter stories”.

  2. March 11, 2012 10:35 am

    I assumed that this wasn’t on Kindle, and therefore put it further down my “to read” list. But it is on Kindle! So I’ll buy a copy tomorrow. Cheers for the late review otherwise I would’ve kept putting it off.

  3. March 12, 2012 3:15 pm

    Cool review Rory. Very perceptive. I’m a bit late getting to read it but hey. Better late etc etc..

  4. July 8, 2013 11:37 pm

    Hi, thanks for all the comments. I’m afraid I write rather idiosyncratically. Sometimes for reading aloud. So of course, I don’t want spelling errors. But punctuation oddities are probably intentional. Sentence fragments or whatever. And the “nonsensical sentences” probably made sense to me but are always risky. I do take risks. When a writer, such as Richard Farina, had odd punctuation, so long as it was in his style and did not make reading difficult, I let him push boundaries. My approach to nonfiction is inside a fiction framework. So I do break rules. Again, thanks for the feedback. I’ll be watching for such types of errors in the future. But when it comes down to it, and I feel a sentence a certain way, and I know the correct grammar, I still sometimes believe the offbeat sentence is more effective in communicating the sense. But I do take it seriously that it might not go down well with every reader. And I definitely appreciate the comments. In fact, you’ve made me want to go back and check for errors in this book! Thanks, Rory, for such a marvelous example of a good writer, as always.

  5. July 18, 2013 9:36 pm

    Many thanks for the detailed explanation Margaret

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