Thomas Wolfe’s novel You Can’t Go Home Again was published on September 18, 1940, two years (almost to the day) after Wolfe’s death at the age of 37. It tells the story of a famous novelist who returns to his hometown to find himself hated there for using the townspeople’s private stories in his books.
It was the final book in his four-volume autobiographical cycle which began with Look Homeward Angel in 1929.
Wolfe was famously a nightmare for his editors since he wrote voluminously and relied on them to whittle his manuscripts down to manageable size. Max Perkins did this for Look Homeward Angel, which Wolfe submitted at 1100 pages, and Of Time and the River, the first two books in the quartet.
Edward Aswell had the daunting task of preparing the last two, The Web and the Rock and You Can’t Go Home Again, from 1.5 million words that Wolfe left behind at his death — enough for at least 10 average sized novels — in boxes and piles at his home.
To me this begs the question of who is the real author of the books. Maybe Perkins and Aswell should get co-author credit at least. It reminds me of the situation with Raymond Carver, a writer I love, and his editor Gordon Lish who seems to have pared down and rewritten many of Carver’s iconic stories.
I have to admit that I have never read a word of Thomas Wolfe. I don’t think he’s been in fashion for at least a generation. I don’t think he’s much read for pleasure these days, unlike his contemporaries Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald.