David Nix recommends B. H. Friedman’s “Yarborough”

David Nix wrote with an enthusiastic recommendation for B. H. Friedman’s 1964, Yarborough:

I first read, re-read, and re-re-read this book when I was in college, over 40 years ago. The story of a World War II era bridge prodigy spoke to me in a way that no other book ever has. The descriptions of drug experiences (marijuana and LSD) are vivid and accurate. A few years later I tracked down a copy through a book locator (remember them?), and have re-etc.-read it every couple of years ever since. For me, at least, it has never ceased to be fresh.

Friedman is a wonderful writer who never found popular acclaim. I guess his best-know novel was The Polygamist, which was a NYT Notable Book in its publication year. He was also an art writer in the abstract expressionist era — wrote the first full-length biography of Jackson Pollock [Jackson Pollock: Energy Made Visible–reissued by Da Capo Press in 1995.–Ed.], and a terrific novel about the museum world [Museum, one of the first three works published in 1974 by the Fiction Collective.–Ed.]

He is still around — must be in his mid-80s by now. I noticed a letter from him in the NYT Book Review a couple of months back, and Amazon tells me he published a new book last year.

Yarborough takes its title from the game of bridge. A “yarborough” is a “nothing hand” without face cards or value. Yarborough follows the life of Arthur Skelton, a bridge prodigy, who searches in vain for a system to give his life meaning. He experiments with many of the temptations available in the first half of the 20th century, finding none and dying suddenly in a car crash while still in his twenties. It was well-received by some of the more prominent papers, such as the New York Times, but most critics and readers outside Manhattan found it too esoteric. It continues to win and keep a small number of fervent supporters such as Mr. Nix.

Much the same fate was suffered by Friedman’s first novel, Circles, published in 1963. It also received positive reviews on the East Coast, but led one Midwestern critic to grouse, “If you deleted the martinis, the sex, the pot (marijuana), the sex, the cocktail parties, and the sex, there would be little left in this novel.” (Which reminds me of a famous line from “Blazing Saddles”).

Friedman continues to write and publish in the new century. His 2006 book, Tripping: A Memoir of Timothy Leary & Co., was probably his most commercially successful since The Polygamist. His most recent novel, My Case Rests, was published just last year.

4 thoughts on “David Nix recommends B. H. Friedman’s “Yarborough”

  1. I remember that in 2004 or so when Mark Moskowitz was having an informal board of advisors, of which I was one, make suggestions for reissues for the Lost Books Club that was to follow in the wake of his film Stone Reader, I asked several writers which title they would recommend for such republication. The choice of David Michaelis, the biographer of N.C. Wyeth and Charles M. Schulz, was, indeed, “Yarborough.”

  2. Yarborough is a book that I have been searching for for many years and as I reside in Thailand, it is very unlikely that I will locate a copy here.It has resided in my memory for decades after, such was its impact. I enjoyed this novel both as a book about bridge ( I am a life-long addict ! ) and about life, with very real characters. I came across it in the mid or late sixties, not long after its original publication – and have sought to re-read it ever since !
    Have noted the passing on of its author, may he rest in peace … there are some who remember and treasure his work.

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