Miller’s Talesnby Gregory McNameenThe Happiest Man Alivenby Mary V. DearbornnNew York: Simon & Schuster;n368 pp., $24.95nHenry Miller: A Lifenby Robert FergusonnNew York: W.W. Norton;n397 pp., $24.95nThroughout his long life, HenrynMiller (1891-1980) wrote a handfulnof good books, among them ThenAir-Conditioned Nightmare (1945), innwhich the prodigal son and narratornreturns from self-imposed exile innFrance to tour his native United Statesnby automobile, and Big Sur and thenOranges ofHieronymus Bosch (1956),na back-to-the-land meditation that prefigurednsome of the next decade’sncommunitarian experiments. Both,nalong with one or two other of Miller’snbooks, will endure in the literature ofnAmerican social criticism as fine examplesnof the polemicist’s art.nMiller, of course, is remembered fornnone of these books, but for a tide ofnpornographic and near-pornographicnnovels published both pseudonymouslynand under his own name: Tropic ofnCancer, Tropic of Capricorn, Sexus,nQuiet Days in Clichy, and nearly anhundred others. Of these books. Millernboasted, “The difference between menand other writers is that they struggle tonget down what they’ve got up here innthe head. I struggle to get what’snbelow, in the solar plexus, in the nethernregions.” Smuggled into the UnitednStates in sub-rosa French editions,nthese “dirty books” titillated generationsnof American adolescents, whonskipped over Miller’s mawkish attemptsnat artistry to get at the naughty paragraphsndeep within.nRead today, with the constant commodificationnof sexual relations in thenintervening decades, the great bulk ofnMiller’s books seem tame, awkward,nself-conscious curios, the sort of stuffthatncollectors rush to gather but readers,nin the main, pass over. In that light,nit seems curious that two major Americannpublishing houses should havenfound need to commission major biographiesnof Miller for publicahon in thencentenary year of his birth. Yet herenthey are: two far different lives, bothncelebratory, both incomplete.nMary Dearborn’s The HappiestnMan Alive — its htle taken from ancharacteristic Miller boast, “I have nonmoney, no resources, no hopes; I amnthe happiest man alive” — is, in thenway of academic biographies thesendays, marked by pop-psych/postmodernnself-satisfaction. The authornseems content to write off Miller’snphilandering, violent temper, anti-nSemitism, fascist leanings, and otherndark aspects as manifestations of thenfm-de-siecle America into which henwas born, and nothing more. A historian,nDearborn does not often considernMiller as a writer; for her, he is more anlaboratory specimen on a Lost Generationnmounting board. Despite its varnishnof sometimes interesting feministnand psychoanalytical theories, Dearborn’sntreatment remains stubbornlynsuperficial.nDearborn is especially pressed tonexplain Miller’s most famous relationship,nthat with his second wife, JunenSmith, a dime-a-dancer who passed offnMiller’s writing as her own to securenthe patronage of a wealthy admirer.nWith the proceeds, the two went tonParis, eventually entering into a triadnwith Anais Nin, whose diaries give anmore interesting picture of Miller thanndo either of his subsequent biographers.n(The 1989 film Henry and Junen. recapitulates their three-way affair; fornits tawdry realism, the film earned thenindustry’s first NR rahng, meaningnsomething like “X with a plot.”) FornDearborn, June is little more than angrifter whose sole mission is to derailnMiller’s career by systematically undoingnhim emotionally — a strange take,nit would seem, for a feminist criHc —nrather than an equal player in a Bohemiannfunhouse.nJune earns more sympathetic treatmentnin Robert Ferguson’s HenrynMiller: A Life; in his eyes she becomesnat least something more than a destruc-nHve siren. Ferguson is at pains to rationalizenand defend Miller and hisnfamiliars at every turn. Like so manynexponents of every counterculturenknown to history. Miller, for instance,nwas gullible in the extreme when itncame to faddish religions, embracingnVedanta, theosophy, Scientology, andnother occult doctrines indiscriminately;nnnfor Ferguson, “his spontaneous attractionnto frauds” becomes not a mark ofninconstant intellect but “an odd andneven touching index of his credulity.”nFerguson’s breezy style makes his bookna better bet for the casual reader thannDearborn’s drier academic approach,nbut on the whole it is a long exercise innPeople magazine journalism.nThere are any number of nastyndiseases afoot to remind us of thenconsequences of the love-without-carenplatitudes Henry Miller committed tonprint and history. Anyone who stillnadheres to these ideas clearly has notnbeen keeping up with the newspapers.nMiller’s real contribution, apart fromnhis few enduring books, remains hisnwillingness to champion free speech,nhis refusal to bow to censors of whatevernstripe. He inspired others of his timenin this cause — the critic Lionel Trilling,nfor example, who was moved tonremark of Miller’s novel Black Springn(1963), “This is a book which I will benglad to defend but not to praise.”nMiller’s battle of two decades to publishnhis work freely in the UnitednStates, which both biographers adequatelynrecount, has since allowednonce-controversial writers like EricanJong and Philip Roth their place on thenshelves without the specter of beingn”banned in Boston.”nBut Henry Miller’s time is long past,nand these twin lives are too little, toonlate.nGregory McNamee is a freelancenwriter living in Tucson.nTalking Brassnby William R. HawkinsnHazardous Duty:nAn American Soldier in thenTwentieth Centurynby Major General John K. SinglaubnNew York: Summit Books;n526 pp., $24.95nIremember having dinner with JohnnSinglaub shortly after he retired fromnthe Army. The Young Americans fornFreedom chapter at the University ofnTennessee, of which I was president,nhad invited him to speak on campus.nFEBRUARY 1992/33n