‘A Boy’s Discovery’ by Robert McAlmon

“Harry didn’t like wetting his clothes, or muddying his shoes, because these things felt uncomfortable and he knew they might make him sick. He didn’t like to tie cans to the tails of dogs, because that didn’t make him split with laughter; it only made him sorry for the dogs.”

Probably best known as either the man who typed and edited James Joyce’s handwritten manuscript of Ulysses or the publisher of Ernest Hemingway’s first story collection, McAlmon deserves to be remembered as more than just an ancillary character in the lives of the more famous literary modernists. You don’t even have to take my word for it; listen to Kay Boyle, who said: “If Robert McAlmon had only written ‘A Boy’s Discovery’ and ‘A Vacation’s Job’ he would be more than worth remembering.” He doesn’t festoon his prose with excessively purple frills and he leaves much of the story under the surface—stylistic traits shared with his friend Hemingway. In fact, it was almost certainly Hemingway whom Ezra Pound was demeaning when he said, “America is now teeming with books written by imitators of McAlmon, inferior to the original.” Though McAlmon published much of his own work in Paris under his Contact Editions, he struggled to find an American publisher (only publishing one book of poems in his native country during his lifetime). Speculation abounds as to why it was so difficult for him to find American publishers, when many of his more famous contemporaries championed his work, but it is likely that his homosexuality played a role in the lack of interest in his writing. ‘A Boy’s Discovery’ pricks with homosexual tension, mystery, and misery, and remains one of the most heartbreaking accounts of adolescence. 

First published in McAlmon’s collection A Hasty Bunch, 1922, Maurice Darantière, included in Post-Adolescence, 1991, University of New Mexico Press

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