Unrealized expectations – when the novel flops

“This schizophrenic second novel…veers from sluggish philosophizing and ponderous verbosity to snappy repartee and crisp narrative.” This is the beginning of a “Publishers Weekly” review for a 1992 novel called SEASON’S END. The review does not get any better as it goes on.
SEASON’S END, a tale of minor league baseball and the American dream, is the work of Tom Grimes, who not only dreamed of making it big as a novelist, but was encouraged to think he might by the former head of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Frank Conroy. Conroy, who is best known for his 1967 memoir STOP-TIME, granted Grimes a scholarship to attend the workshop in the late 1980’s.
Grimes writes about his experience at Iowa and his relationship with Conroy in his new memoir, MENTOR. Both men were working on novels at the time. Both novels went on to be published. Neither was a best seller and Grimes was forced to take a low-paying teaching job after the publication of SEASON’S END. He suffered a severe breakdown.
Grimes’ tragedy may have been that he was encouraged. Most writers do not have mentors like Conroy. But Grimes takes the responsibility on himself: “I’m a failure as a writer because I’ve overreached; my ambition was larger than my talent. Yet I willingly accepted that risk.”
MENTOR is a reminder that making it big as a novelist is a long, long, long shot even for someone whose talent was as lauded as Grimes’. But while his book may serve as a cautionary tale about publication and success in the marketplace, Grimes is not down on writing. His explanation about why he writes is simply beautiful:
“For me, writing is a necessity. I exist in sentences. I forget my sense of failure. I forget time. I forget that I’m aging. I forget that one day I’ll die. Revising sentences is an act of hope, and connecting with a reader is the only leap of faith I’ll ever take.”