In 2013 we lost two Nobel laureates, a revered editor and teacher, plus writers of crime fiction, literary fiction, poetry, history, essays, biographies, screenplays, mega-bestsellers, movie criticism, and memoirs. Here is a highly selective compendium: Evan S. Connell While it may not be accurate to pin Evan S. Connell with that grimmest of labels, "a writer's writer," it is probably fair to say that his restless intelligence and refusal to settle into a niche prevented him from attracting as large an audience as he deserved. Connell, who died on Jan. 10 at 88, produced novels, short stories, poetry, essays, and biographies. He wrote about repressed WASPS, a Navy pilot, a rapist, alchemists and Crusaders, cowboys and Indians, and he was equally at ease writing about art, religion, science, and history. He didn't enjoy his first commercial success until he was 60, with 1984's Son of the Morning Star, a non-fiction exploration of Custer's Last Stand. Until then, due to his books' modest sales, he had supported himself with some not-very-odd jobs, such as reading meters and delivering packages. For many readers, Connell's most indelible novels are Mrs. Bridge (1958) and Mr. Bridge (1969), about the airless world of the country club set in his native Kansas City, Mo. Wells Tower has noted that the short story that presaged the novels, "The Beau Monde of Mrs. Bridge," is a series of "mosaic tile vignettes" rather than a conventional narrative. The vignettes accumulate force until they quietly outdo all the screaming and plate-smashing, the drunkenness and infidelity and angst of so much suburban fiction. In the Bridges' world, as Tower noted, "the wisdom of Emily Post seems to operate as Newtonian law." Furthermore, "In the vacuum of Kansas City, no one can hear you scream." Mrs. Bridge tried to do everything the way it should be done. Mrs. Bridge did not like to hurt anyone's feelings by making them feel inferior. Mrs. Bridge had always voted the way her husband told her to vote, but one day she starts reading books about political issues and since she believes in equality she decides she must persuade Mr. Bridge to vote liberal. Here's what happens at the end of the story when she prepares to confront her husband: She really intended to force a discussion on election eve. She was going to quote from the book of Zokoloff. But he came home so late, so tired, that she had not the heart to upset him. She concluded it would be best to let him vote the way he always had, and she would do as she herself wished; still upon getting to the polls, which were conveniently located in the country club shopping district, she became doubtful and a little uneasy. And when the moment finally came she pulled the lever recording her wish for the world to remain as it was. Connell never married, never owned a computer, never sought notoriety. In the cheesy parlance of our age, he declined to become a brand. It's downright un-American, and quite possibly heroic. "I hate to be recognized," he once said. "I want to be anonymous." Chinua Achebe Chinua Achebe exploded on the world literary scene with the 1958 publication of his first novel, Things Fall Apart, which invoked Ibo voices from his native Nigeria, boldly challenged European concepts of Africans, and in a single stroke anointed Achebe the father of African fiction. Published during the twilight of British colonial rule, the novel set out to show, as Achebe put it, "that African peoples did not hear of civilization for the first time from Europeans." Achebe, who died on March 21 at 82, produced five novels and many short stories over the next three decades. He did not let his fellow Africans off lightly. His satirical fourth novel, A Man of the People, exposed the corruption and irresponsibility of many post-colonial politicians, and it ends with a coup much like the one in 1966 that plunged Nigeria into a devastating civil war. Despite a period of writer's block brought on by the war, Achebe went on to produce essays, poems, and memoirs, and he oversaw the publication of more than 100 texts that made other African writers' work available to a worldwide audience. A car accident in 1990 left him paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair, yet he continued to write, travel, teach, and lecture. Perhaps his most appropriate epitaph came from Nelson Mandela, who died on Dec. 5. "There was a writer named Chinua Achebe," Mandela wrote, "in whose company the prison walls fell down." Ruth Prawer Jhabvala I suspect I was not alone in assuming that Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who had an Indian name and wrote so knowingly about India, was a native of India. She was not. She war a German Jew, born in Cologne and educated in England, who married an Indian architect in 1951 and moved with him to Delhi, where they raised three daughters and she began writing fiction about her adopted homeland. Jhabvala, who died on April 3 at 85, started by writing fiction that trained a satirical, Jane Austen-ish eye on the modernizing Indian middle class, its struggles to balance old and new ways, what E.M. Forster called "the unlovely chaos that lies between obedience and freedom." In time her gaze grew more acid, especially when she was describing sham gurus, Western seekers, and anyone who tried to deceive themselves and others. Her eighth novel, Heat and Dust, won the Booker Prize in 1975, and in all she published a dozen novels and eight collections of short stories. But it was her screenwriting, particularly her collaborations with the filmmaking team of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, that brought her widespread fame. Their first project was an adaptation of her own 1960 novel, The Householder, and many of her other two dozen screenplays sprang from literary sources, including the novels of Henry James, Peter Cameron, Diane Johnson, Kazuo Ishiguro, Jean Rhys, and Evan S. Connell (she conflated Connell's novels Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge into Mr. and Mrs. Bridge in 1990, starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward). Jhabvala won two Oscars, for her adaptations of Forster's Howards End and A Room With a View. Though the headline on her obituary in The New York Times read "Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Screenwriter, Dies at 85," she made no secret that she regarded screenwriting as secondary to the writing of fiction. In her Who's Who entry, the "recreation" category says "writing film scripts." And as she once wrote to a friend, "I live so much more in and for the books." Elmore Leonard When I heard that Elmore Leonard had died on Aug. 20 at 87, I salved my sorrow by re-reading one of his Motor City masterpieces, City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit. It opens with a dry description of a juicily corrupt judge that resonates on several levels. Goes like this: In the matter of Alvin B. Guy, Judge of Recorder's Court, City of Detroit: The investigation of the Judicial Tenure Commission found the respondent guilty of misconduct in office and conduct clearly prejudicial to the administration of justice. The allegations set forth in the formal complaint were that Judge Guy: 1.) Was discourteous and abusive to counsel, litigants, witnesses, court personnel, spectators and news reporters. 2.) Used threats of imprisonment or promises of probation to induce pleas of guilty. 3.) Abused the power of contempt. 4.) Used his office to benefit friends and acquaintances. 5.) Bragged of his sexual prowess openly. 6.) Was continually guilty of judicial misconduct that was not only prejudicial to the administration of justice but destroyed respect of the office he holds. I read those opening lines, originally published in 1980, as a thinly veiled portrait of the man then serving as mayor of Detroit, Coleman Young, who was every bit as profane, nasty, and corrupt as the fictional Judge Alvin B. Guy. But another Detroit writer, my pen pal Loren D. Estleman, set me straight on this, informing me that Leonard's Judge Alvin Guy was actually inspired by a notorious Detroit judge named James Del Rio, who packed a pistol under his judicial robes and once presided over a shootout in his courtroom that left a defense attorney dead. No matter. The important thing is that those opening lines of City Primeval, like so much of Leonard's fiction, were not only timely, they were timeless: they illuminated the eternal venality of the human soul, which was Leonard's inexhaustible subject. To wit: Two months after Leonard died, another corrupt former Detroit mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was sentenced to 28 years in prison for an array of misdeeds that would have made Alvin Guy, James Del Rio, and Coleman Young proud, including racketeering, extortion, bribery, fraud, income tax evasion, and putting friends and family on the city payroll. Elmore Leonard always nailed it, whether he was writing about crooks in his primeval hometown of Detroit, or crooks in Miami, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, or Djibouti. R.I.P., Dutch. You are missed. Seamus Heaney In 1995 Seamus Heaney became the fourth Irish writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, following in the outsized footsteps of his countrymen William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Beckett. The fact that neither Flann O'Brien nor James Joyce made the cut speaks to the magnitude of Heaney's achievement. (Oscar Wilde died a year before the first Nobel Prize was awarded to Sully Prudhomme.) Seamus Heaney (pronounced HEE-nee) was born in rural County Derry in Northern Ireland to a Catholic family, and his poetry was forever veined with the physical world of his childhood -- he could remember interiors without electric lights, farmers plowing with horses, women churning butter until their hands bloomed with blisters. But Heaney, who died on Aug. 30 at 74, was no pastoral nostalgist. Beneath his rural tableaux runs a river of sex and violence, even in poems written before the Troubles washed his homeland in blood. He carried contradictions with a velvety ease that echoed the sound of his velvety voice: he was a Romantic realist, a rural cosmopolitan, an archaic modernist, an atheist who welcomed miracles. He regarded words as "bearers of history and mystery." What could be felt (and done) with the hands was every bit as important to him as what could be seen with the eyes. His poetry was pungent, physical, earthy. In the poem "Seed Cutters," he makes explicit that the people of his childhood linked him to worlds past: They seem hundreds of years away. Breughel, You'll know them if I can get them true. In the poem "Digging," from his debut 1966 collection Death of a Naturalist, Heaney revealed how his poetry sprang from the soil: Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests; snug as a gun. Under my window, a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: My father, digging, I look down Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds Bends low, comes up twenty years away Stooping in rhythm through drills Where he was digging... By God, the old man could handle a spade Just like his old man... The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge Through living roots awaken in my head. But I've no spade to follow men like them. Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests. I'll dig with it. Heaney's translation of Beowulf became a bestseller, and in 2002 he brought out Finders Keepers, a collection of previously published essays and lectures. He described the book's entries this way: "They are testimonies to the fact that poets themselves are finders and keepers, that their vocation is to look after art and life by being discoverers and custodians of the unlooked for." Carolyn Cassady The Beats were basically a boys' club, their moveable frat party open to few females. One who made it past the bouncers was Carolyn Cassady, the second wife of Neal Cassady, that "western kinsman of the sun" who became Jack Kerouac's muse and the kinetic character Dean Moriarty in On the Road. Carolyn Cassady, who died on Sept. 20 at 90, became the character Camille in the novel, by turns a thrill-killing shrew and a dedicated wife, the woman who dutifully stayed home to raise Neal/Dean's children whenever he and Kerouac/Sal Paradise hit the road in pursuit of a fresh dose of enlightenment, girls and kicks. At her husband's urging, Carolyn also became Kerouac's lover. Carolyn Cassady produced two memoirs, Heart Beat: My Life with Jack and Neal (1976) and Off the Road: My Years with Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg (1990). She said she wrote the books as correctives to the notion, so widespread among young people after the 1957 publication of On the Road, that the holy troika of the Beat generation led lives of unfettered bliss. "I kept thinking that the imitators never knew and don't know how miserable these men were," she once said. "They think they were having marvelous times -- joy, joy, joy -- and they weren't at all." Neal and Carolyn were married in 1947, when she was several months pregnant with their first of three children. Being married to Neal Cassady -- street kid, jailbird, car thief, serial philanderer, aspiring writer, and irresistible volcano of energy -- cannot have been a day at the beach. Here's how Kerouac describes a typical Neal Cassady eruption in On the Road: I learned that Dean had lived happily with Camille in San Francisco ever since that fall of 1947; he got a job on the railroad and made a lot of money. He became the father of a cute little girl, Amy Moriarty. Then suddenly he blew his top while walking down the street one day. He saw a '49 Hudson for sale and rushed to the bank for his entire roll. He bought the car on the spot. Ed Dunkel was with him. Now they were broke. Dean calmed Camille's fears and told her he'd be back in a month. "I'm going to New York and bring Sal back." She wasn't too pleased at this prospect. "But what is the purpose of all this? Why are you doing this to me?" "It's nothing, it's nothing, darling -- ah -- hem -- Sal has pleaded and begged with me to come and get him, it is absolutely necessary for me to -- but we won't go into all these explanations -- and I'll tell you why...No, listen, I'll tell you why." And he told her why, and of course it made no sense. Carolyn believed Neal had a split personality -- a hard-working family man at war with "a wild nature driven by sexual desire." She divorced him in 1963 and five years later he was dead at 41, his body sprawled beside a Mexican railroad track, full of alcohol and drugs, dehydrated, flat worn out. Kerouac, bloated and alcoholic, followed him a year later. But Carolyn, the product of a conventional upper-middle class family, lived on, designing theater costumes, painting portraits, writing her memoirs, and observing the indefatigable juggernaut of the Beat Industry with a jaundiced eye, even though her two books were inarguably a part of the juggernaut. During the 1978 filming of Heart Beat, starring Sissy Spacek as Carolyn and Nick Nolte as Neal, Carolyn told The Washington Post, "Sissy's got me all cleaned up, I'm the most wonderful heroine. I go through everything and come out unscathed. I saw the dailies the other day and I cracked up. Everything was so romantic, I was crying. It could have been like that, but it wasn't at all." And she didn't even try to hide her disdain when director Walter Salles brought On the Road to the screen in 2012. She dismissed the actors cast to play Jack and Neal, Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund, as "wimps." To make matters worse, chirpy Kirsten Dunst played the role of Carolyn/Camille. Carolyn Cassady did herself one last favor and declined to see the movie. Tom Clancy Tom Clancy created his very own genre, the "techno-thriller," and loaded it with high-tech military hardware, virtuous Americans, cardboard villains, and stories that never stopped galloping. Clancy's was a chiaroscuro world of vivid blacks and whites: capitalism is good, communism is bad, the C.I.A. wears shining armor, and the world would be better off without politicians, liberals, terrorists, drug cartels, reporters, and Hollywood. While working unhappily as an insurance salesman, Clancy sold the manuscript of his first novel, The Hunt for Red October, for $5,000 in 1984. It became a bestseller after winning the endorsement of President Ronald Reagan, who called it "my kind of yarn." Clancy, who died on Oct. 1 at 66, was rarely accused of being a masterful prose stylist -- one reviewer dismissed his writing as "the verbal equivalent of a high-tech video game" -- but there's no arguing that Clancy knew how to connect with an audience. More than 100 million copies of his books are in print, 17 reached #1 on The New York Times bestseller list, and an A-list of Hollywood actors (Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford) have played Clancy's hero, Jack Ryan, in assorted blockbuster movies. And perhaps as a retort to that sniffy critic of his prose, Clancy happily arranged for his thrillers to be turned into video games. Clancy made a silo full of money off his writing and he knew how to enjoy it. He bought a piece of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team and he lived in a 24-room mansion on the Chesapeake Bay with an indoor pool, a gun range in the basement, and a World War II-vintage M1A1 tank parked on the lawn. A reporter once asked Clancy if he ever drove the tank. Too dangerous, Clancy replied. "It's essentially a lawn ornament." Oscar Hijuelos Oscar Hijuelos's greatest hit, his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1989 novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, unspools like an extended, ecstatic song, full of horn blasts, the patter of congas and bongos, the whirl of frenzied dancers. It is narrated by the broken-down Cuban bandleader Cesar Castillo, as he sits in a shabby Harlem hotel room drinking whisky and remembering "those glorious nights of love so long ago." He also remembers life's sensual pleasures -- the food, the cars, the music, the streets, women's hats, women's underclothes, and, above all, the many women he loved. Much as he'd like to, he can't forget his life's many missed opportunities. The novel is a sad sexy dream. Hijuelos, who was born in New York City to Cuban parents, suffered a heart attack while playing tennis on Oct. 12 and died at age 62. He grew up speaking Spanish at the family's home in the Washington Heights section of upper Manhattan, and acquired English during a long hospital stay when he was three years old. He wrote in English, producing eight works of fiction and a memoir, all of it a way of wrestling with the immigrant experience and his feeling that he was an outsider in his own culture. He was more American-Cuban than Cuban-American, and the sensation of feeling stranded between cultures caused him no small amount of pain. "I eventually came to the point that, when I heard Spanish, I found my heart warming," he wrote late in life. "And that was the moment when I began to look through another window, not out onto 118th Street, but into myself -- through my writing, the process by which, for all my earlier alienation, I had finally returned home." Hijeulos was working at an advertising agency in 1983 when he sold his first novel, Our House in the Last World, but success, including a 1992 movie of Mambo Kings starring Antonio Banderas and Armand Assante, eventually allowed him to write full time. In 2008, after being "gainfully unemployed" for 20 years, he started teaching at Duke University and discovered, to is surprise, that he enjoyed the job. "I have to say, I love the kids," he said. "It's a joyful thing to see the future sitting before you." Louis Rubin Before his death on Nov. 16 at 89, Louis Rubin may have done more than anyone to prove that New York City does not own a monopoly on quality book publishing in America. Rubin, a revered teacher and prolific author, co-founded Algonquin Press in Chapel Hill, N.C., in 1983 as a springboard for writers, especially young writers of the Southern persuasion who'd gotten the cold shoulder from the insular New York publishing world. Rubin's students included John Barth, Annie Dillard, and Kaye Gibbons, and Algonquin published a small army of celebrated Southerners, including Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, and Clyde Edgerton, as well as one native of Canada, Sara Gruen, whose third novel, Water for Elephants, was turned down by her New York publisher. After Algonquin published the novel in 2011, it sold millions of copies, became a #1 bestseller, and was made into a major motion picture. It was not the only time Louis Rubin had the last laugh at New York's expense. Doris Lessing Doris Lessing, who died on Nov. 17 at 94, will be best remembered as the author of The Golden Notebook, a novel as free-wheeling and unconventional as the woman who wrote it. She produced a staggering body of work in her long life, including novels, science fiction, memoirs, essays, poems, even a libretto for an opera adapted from two of her books, with music by Philip Glass. Born in Persia (now Iran) to British parents, she grew up in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), married young, had two children, divorced, had another child, then left for England to pursue her literary dreams. She was an iconoclast who railed against racism and sexism, a Catholic who became a Communist, then an anti-Communist, and finally an atheist. Eventually she abandoned all -isms, never apologizing or looking back. It was a life both chilly and inspiring. In this age of literary careerists panting for praise and prizes, the thing I'll remember about the free-spirited Lessing was the way she greeted the news that she had been awarded the Nobel Prize in 2007. When she climbed out of a taxi in front of her London home and got the big news from a squadron of reporters camped on her front stoop, she said, "Oh, Christ! I couldn't care less." Then she added, "The whole thing is so graceless and stupid and bad mannered." Oh, Christ, how refreshing! And... This list is, by design, selective, but I want to mention a few other noteworthy writers who died in 2013. In alphabetical order they are: the renegade preacher and novelist Will D. Campbell, the biographer and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Richard Ben Cramer, the art critic Arthur C. Danto, the film critics Roger Ebert and Stanley Kauffmann, the historian Stanley Karnow, and the author of young-adult novels Ned Vizzini. Through your words you will all live on. Images courtesy of Bill Morris.
In the days of my late childhood, I fell in love with two sagas: The Lord of the Rings and the story of Jack Ryan. I broke the spines of both sets of books with repeated rereading. J.R.R. Tolkien and Tom Clancy created worlds of adventure saturated with purpose in which a boy could find refuge. Even though it’s been years since I’ve read one of his books, I was saddened to hear of Tom Clancy’s death. Jack Ryan, Clancy’s creation, was a historian turned spy. He had a lot in common with Frodo Baggins, Tolkien’s diminutive champion, an upper-class flâneur turned martyr. Both went on great, world-historical adventures. They went tentatively at first, at the bidding of a mentor, and then decisively, driven by a sense of decency. Frodo's quest was to destroy a ring of great -- and therefore inherently malevolent -- power. To destroy the ring, he had to sneak into Mordor, an evil land, evading the watch of Sauron, the Dark Lord. Ryan's Quest was less straightforward. It begins with his departure from London to deliver pictures of the Red October to James Greer, his mentor at the CIA. But like Gandalf charging Frodo with the ring’s destruction, Greer, and then the President, entrust Ryan with a quest of steadily growing importance. The Cold War mostly figures as atmospheric backdrop in The Hunt for Red October. It is the story of how Ryan comes to meet Marko Ramius, a Soviet submarine captain, who is trying to defect to the United States along with his ship, the Red October. Ramius, like Frodo evading the Eye of Sauron, sneaks towards the U.S. dodging satellites -- both American and Soviet -- and sonar from other submarines and the SOSUS network that spanned the gap between Greenland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom. Ryan is the book’s protagonist because of his sympathy for Ramius; he is the first American to figure out what Ramius is trying to do, inferring the Russian submarine captain’s intensions on the basis of scant evidence. Ramius is driven by heartbreak; his wife died at the hands of a drunken doctor, who in Clancy's schematic political morality stands in for the systemic failures of communism. The book's minor characters are well-drawn. Jones, the American sonarman who finds the Red October in the vast North Atlantic, is a skinny Caltech dropout who's trained his ears by listening to Bach; Bart Mancuso, the captain of Jones's submarine, has the wisdom to direct his entire ship to follow Jones's hunch. Absent Jones's ability and Mancuso's willingness to trust his subordinate and defy his superiors, the plot of the novel would come unraveled. Clancy sketches many others of high rank and low. He gives just enough detail to bring them to life before moving the plot along. The genius of Clancy's story, its basic believability, like Tolkien's, comes from a firm commitment to letting the plot unfold logically once the initial hook is in place. It is perhaps difficult to believe there is a ring of power that confirms upon its bearer numinous strength, or that a Russian missile submarine commander, in charge of the newest and most secret sub, would defect along with all his officers. But once you buy the beginning, the rest of the books proceed with rigor. Fantasy, as a genre, gives the author more flexibility in this regard than thrillers. Tolkien distinguishes himself from his imitators by abjuring that flexibility, and understating the fantastic in his novels. The ring conveys great power, but it is never really used as a source of power. Clancy is similarly reticent in Red October. Unlike lesser genre novels, calamity is not constantly averted at the last minute; undesirable outcomes are, however, avoided. The shortcomings of both epics as works of literature account for their deep resonance with me as a kid. The ancillary good guys are clearly described -- Barliman, an innkeeper who shelters Frodo, can “see through a brick wall in time” and Skip Tyler, an old friend of Jack Ryan's can singlehandedly outprogram a team of “Beltway Bandits.” But the villains, such as they are, are formless. Sauron appears directly in only one scene in the Lord of the Rings, when he interrogates one of Frodo's friends in a brief interchange, most of which takes place off stage; he is mostly an amorfous source of anxiety and ill will. Similarly, though there is a cunning rival submarine captain who tries to destroy the Red October towards the end, and a cook who is a spy for Soviet military intelligence, neither are true villains for Clancy. He gives them their due as men honorably serving a cause. The Soviet system, rather than any person, is Clancy's Sauron. This is why he places such great stake in the death of Ramius's wife; otherwise the evils of communism are mere implications of a lack of individual autonomy. The Clancy of Red October doesn't betray much interest in political philosophy, though he is interested in the ethos of shared endeavor -- one can easily imagine a Russian Tom Clancy, born and raised in Murmansk, writing the same novel with the American and Russian roles symmetrically switched. Had Mancuso's wife died at the hands of America's broken, profiteering health care system, he might have fled to egalitarian Russia and been welcomed. Clancy's nationalism is, in this sense, superficial. His narrative lingers constantly on men like Ryan himself, his mentor Greer, Sonarman Jones, Capt. Mancuso, and others who fight the system while remaining loyal to the principles the system imperfectly claims to uphold. Much has been made of Clancy's use of technology in his novels. The truth is there isn't any more technology than there needs to be to move the plot along. Just as Tolkien's linguistic fluency makes for vivd Elves -- in the books “Gilthoniel a Elbereth!” has force as an incantation, giving hope to the good guys and making bad guys quiver -- so too does Clancy's nuanced understanding of the functioning of passive and active sonar drive the plot of Red October forward in lifelike fashion. My favorite scene in Red October comes near the end. Ryan and Ramius have fooled most of the world into thinking the Red October sunk. They sail the submarine, crippled, into a U.S. Navy base in Norfolk, Va., after hiding from Soviet spy satellites. The CIA faked a truck crash to shut down the bridge spanning the entrance to Chesapeake Bay to allow the sub to pass by unseen. A gaggle of high-ranking naval officers gather to greet the submarine. Ryan, who was the only American aboard the submarine, had been talking with the Soviet defectors. He told them, accurately, that the most impressive thing about America they would find would be supermarkets. When the submarine docks, Ryan wearily demurs from celebration, as the narrator observes that “it wasn't his fraternity.” I was about ten when I first read these words, and I hardly knew what a fraternity was. But Clancy understood both brotherhood and the detachment one feels observing brotherhood from a remove. “In the control room the men were standing around exchanging grins, but they were quiet, as if they feared the magic of the moment would evaporate all too quickly. For Ryan it already had,” Clancy writes. Ryan, though dressed as a naval officer, wasn't one, and so he leaves for Langley: “He walked up the gangway against traffic. No one seemed to notice him.” As Tolkien’s Frodo told his best friend Sam, “It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.” The Hunt for Red October was first published by the Naval Institute Press. It was a cult classic before it became a bestseller. Clancy stumbled afterwards. His next book, Red Storm Rising, was a workmanlike imagining of conventional war between the U.S. and Russia. It was followed by Patriot Games, a comparatively slight book that burnishes Ryan's backstory and The Cardinal of the Kremlin, the only time Clancy again equalled Red October in narrative texture. It has Clancy’s strongest opening lines: “Business was being conducted. All kinds of business. Everyone there knew it. Everyone there was part of it. Everyone there needed it. And yet everyone there was in one way or another dedicated to stopping it.” It is the closest Clancy came to le Carré. Clancy lost track of Ryan's defining feature after The Cardinal of the Kremlin. In the first three books, Ryan not only did not aspire to great power, but also did not attain it. Clancy’s later books thrust Ryan Zeliglike up the hierarchy of power, rather as if Frodo found himself accidentally King of Gondor. Clancy's facility with plot kept me (and millions of others) reading for a while, but hobbits look silly wearing crowns. Clancy's heavy-handed populism proved his downfall as a writer. He can hardly restrain his glee when, in a later book, a plane crashes into the Capitol, killing almost all of America's political leadership and leaving Jack Ryan as a righteous president. It was around the time of that book -- Debt of Honor -- that Clancy began lending his name out to other authors, franchising the goodwill he had earned with Red October. He himself became a system, a lucrative factory for the production of technothrillers. He became a man that the Jack Ryan of Red October, who drunkenly quotes Shelley's "Ozymandias": “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair” would not much have liked. Clancy caught the spirit of the late Cold War as well as anyone, before catching the spirit of the Tea Party. Red October closes with Ryan’s moral disappointment in his CIA superiors and with himself. Ryan is aware of his incipient resignation to the corrupting influence of spycraft. He finds himself “forgetting the seaman’s code,” and laments his own ability to compromise. The subtlety went out of Clancy’s writing long before his death, but not before he gave us the story of Jack Ryan, reluctant spy, who set out from his house to deliver pictures of a submarine and ended up delivering the submarine itself.