Christopher Dickey
Christopher Dickey
Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son
ISBN: 0684812035
Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son
Summer of Deliverance is a powerful and moving memoir of anger, love, and reconciliation between a son and his father; between the journalist Christopher Dickey and the renowned poet and novelist James Dickey.

Chris, best known for his reporting on wars around the world, takes us back to his childhood in his father's universe of Southern intellectuals and backwoods rednecks, of night-fighter pilots in the Pacific, poets in Paris, and martini-drinking ad men in Atlanta. And to the summer of 1971, when James Dickey's first novel, Deliverance, was made into a movie.

For nearly twenty years after his mother drank herself to death in 1976, Christopher hardly saw his father. When they met, it was in passing and on neutral territory—at a coffee shop at La Guardia Airport, at the university's faculty club. Always, Jim would be drunk. Chris had heard accounts of the horrors in his father's house: an alcoholic second wife, a little daughter forced to rely on her wits and will to survive. But Chris believed that there was nothing he could do about the decisions his father made.

Then, in the summer of 1994, pushed by his own wife, Chris went back to South Carolina, back to his mother's grave. He steeled himself against all the madness he knew still lingered there, but hoped that by reuniting with his father he would find what was missing in himself. He discovered he had been right about the horrors of his father's life, but he also found a blood tie that could not be broken, a need for kinship that had to be satisfied. A few months later, as Jim Dickey lay in a hospital near death with liver disease, Chris and his brother, Kevin, and the thirteen-year-old sister they barely knew entered into a conspiracy to save him. And they succeeded.

Drawing on letters, notebooks, diaries, and Chris's explicit conversations with his father about what happened between them, Summer of Deliverance is a superbly crafted memoir of the corrosive effects of fame and an inspiring celebration of love between father and son.
—from the publisher's website

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TRANSCRIPT
Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son
Program Air Date: October 18, 1998

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Christopher Dickey, author of "Summer of Deliverance," after I read your book, I--first question I wanted to ask you is, do you have any emotion left?
Mr. CHRISTOPHER DICKEY (Author, "Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son): Well, when I started to read the book at public readings, yeah, I find out that I have a lot of emotion left. I thought this would--I thought it would kinda clear out a lot of emotion when I was writing it, but, in fact, I--it brings a lot back to me, and there's some parts of the book that I still find difficult to read, especially the last couple of chapters about my father's death. I find it very difficult to read.
LAMB: I--I picked out this paragraph I wanted to read to you and the audience and get your involvement in this. `In the summer of '86'--this is you writing--`I visited New York to meet my new editors and, while I was there, got word my father was in the hospital. He'd had a hemorrhage on the surface of his brain. Doctors had to take a piece out of his skull to relieve the pressure. It was the kind of problem that often occurs after a blow to the head.' What was that whole incident all about?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, there have been different stories about what happened there. My father was in a--a mutually destructive relationship with his second wife, Deborah Dodson, and they both were causing each other an awful lot of emotional pain, and sometimes there was a lot of physical intimidation and interaction among them. There had been an incident fairly early in their marriage where she had stabbed him in the arm with a broad-head arrow, and what we all wondered, after that incident in '86, after that hospitalization, was whether she had hit him on the head with something, either with a blunt instrument or slugged him or something like that. She--I've talked to her about this--I've talked to Deborah many times since--since I wrote the book and, of course, many times before. She says she did not. She said that there are other horrible things that happened in the marriage and things that she did, but in this particular case she didn't hit him on the head with anything and this--this happened maybe as a result of some fall. When he was down at the beach house, maybe, she thinks he might have been hit in the head with a boom of a little sailfish he used to sometimes go out and take drunken voyages in the--on the lake behind the house in Columbia.

But he gave very different stories. It--when he was in the hospital, I asked him point-blank if Deborah had done this and he said, `No.' Later on, after he got very sick, 10 years later--almost 10 years later, he insisted that she had done that, and he took some pleasure in telling people that she had done that because I think it helped him break away from her. So--but it was one of those--it was one of those incidents where I think we know the truth, which is that Deborah did not do it, but he played with that truth in a lot of different ways, and--and it remains a little bit of a mystery.
LAMB: You called your father the `old dilettante of madness.'
Mr. DICKEY: Yes, he was. My father was, I think, a genius and my father was a brilliant man, but he was not, like a lot of poets, depressed, insane, clinically mentally ill. And I think he always felt that there was something missing there, so he tried to manufacture madness. He would lie about all kinds of things, not because he was deluded but because he wanted to create illusions around him. And he liked to surround him--himself--especially in the later years of his life, he liked to surround himself with craziness. Deborah needed help, Deborah needed therapy, and he frustrated that for a lon--for a long time because he liked to observe the craziness.

There were times, even when I was fighting to pull his life back together after he got sick, where Deborah and I had s--a couple of huge fights, and he just sat there and watched and didn't intervene, and I know that she was--she was appalled by that, and in some ways so I was I. But at the end of his life he was too sick to sort of put up with the madness that he'd helped create around him before and--and we got back to something like a sane, workable way of talking to each other and dealing with each other, and things got much better.
LAMB: What year did he--what year did he die?
Mr. DICKEY: He died in January of '97.
LAMB: And the title, "Summer of Deliverance," comes from what?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, there are two summers, really, involved. One is the summer of 1971, when the filming was done of the--when "Deliverance," the novel, was turned into "D--Deliverance," the movie. And we all saw that in the family, but especially myself and my brother and my mother and even Deborah would come to think of it as the time when my father's life turned around and turned--he got more famous and his life got much worse and our lives with him got much worse.

But the other summer in question is the summer of '96, when I had been working, by that time, for about two years to try and--and pull his life together, help him to get well--he'd had a terrible attack of alcoholic hepatitis and almost died of that--helping Debbie get--get--get better treatment, my sister go to schoo--helping my sister get into school and do a lot things that basically would organize what had become a systematically crazy life so that I could start to talk to my father and start to rebuild our own relationship after almost 20 years of estrangement. So that's the other summer of deliverance.
LAMB: What do you remember about the movie, "Deliverance"?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, I remem--one of the scenes that I never, never forget is--I--for me, is the scene where my father, who played the sheriff, leans in the window of John Voight's car at the end of the movie and says, you know, `Don't you boys come back up there.' And there's a particularly kinda mean, ferocious look that he gets on his--real intense look that he gets on his face that worked real well for a threatening sheriff, and it was also a look he used on me more than once in my life, especially when I was a teen-ager. So I remember that pretty well.

But the--of course, the other--the other scene that sticks in my mind, and I think anybody's mind, in "Deliverance"--in the movie "Deliverance" is the rape scene. And that--in my case, that had some special connotations because I was on set the whole time "Deliverance" was being filmed. I got a job as a--as a stand-in, which doesn't take much intelligence. You just walk around and stand in the--in the locations where the actors are going to be when the filming begins so that the cameras and lenses can be set up correctly and the lights set up. And that particular day that that sequence was filmed, I was the stand-in for Ned Beatty, so th--I didn't have to take off my clothes, nobody rou--rode me around and made me squeal like a pig, but that was what that scene was all about, and I did wind up leaning over the log and having other actors positioned around me or other stand-ins positioned--it was not--it was a pretty ugly experience.
LAMB: What year was the movie out?
Mr. DICKEY: It came out the next year. It came out in '72.
LAMB: And how old were you?
Mr. DICKEY: In '72, I was--summer of '72, I would've been 20 years old.
LAMB: Now I--I rented the movie over the weekend, as--after I finished your book, just to see what I remembered. Why do we--and I say that probably collectively; a lot of people saw the movie--remember--although I found that the line that I thought I'd remember was incorrect--but why do we remember that sequence? Why do we remember the lines?
Mr. DICKEY: You mean, `squeal like a pig'?
LAMB: `Squeal like a pig,' and others--and other lines. I mean, what was it about that scene that captured people, and why did he do it? Why'd he write it?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, you know, actually, he didn't write the line `squeal like a pig.' That wa--that was put in by the director and the actors to give it that extra punch of emotional intensity. He wrote it--he wrote the scene in the book and into the movie because he wanted something to happen that was so horrible and so degrading that you could take four essentially ordinary suburbanites...
LAMB: Living where?
Mr. DICKEY: Living in Atlanta in sort of very New Sou--New South Southerners, and put them in a position where they would not only kill to survive but cover up their crime.
LAMB: Where were they?
Mr. DICKEY: Where--I'm sorry?
LAMB: Where were the four suburbanites?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, they go up to north Georgia--for people who don't know the plot of the movie, what happens is that they--or of the book--they decide to go spend a weekend canoeing up in the Appalachian Mountains, up in north Georgia, and--and they go down this river that takes them, in fact, straight to redneck hell. They--they get way out in the--in the back of beyond. They run into two rednecks that might be escaped killers, you don't know--moonshiners--you don't know where the hell these guys come from, but they are the kind of people you don't wanna know and you don't ever wanna meet. And the--they--these rednecks rape one of the members of this group, one of the suburbanites, Ned Beatty, the man I was standing in for, and then one of the suburbanites kills one of the rednecks. They start out down the river again--the other ones escaped--and the--the climax of the book, and what would've been the climax of the movie, if you didn't remember the rape scene so powerfully in the movie, comes when they get into a narrow gorge, one of them falls out of the canoe, maybe he's shot, and the narrator of the novel, the character played by John Voight in the movie, has to climb this very sheer cliff in the middle of the night and wait to try and kill the remaining mountain man. And it's a hell of an adventure story. It really is a hell of an adventure story and it's--and it's a very good movie, too.
LAMB: Do you run into many people that remember that old--the movie and the scenes very often?
Mr. DICKEY: All the time. Well, you know, it's part of a--it's an--it's an icon in American culture. I mean, even when my father was sick, we would--we would--we would joke about it. I think when Disney made "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" somebody wrote a column saying, `Lots of literature should be turned into Disney movies and marketed, and maybe they can make a--make a new animated movie out of "Deliverance" and market Ned Beatty dolls that squeal like a pig.' It--it's--it's the stuff of jokes and of myths, and nobody used to go canoeing on the rivers of north Georgia and now it's a multimillion dollar industry. It's--it's affected the whole fabric of society in that part of the world.
LAMB: Where was your father when he wrote the novel?
Mr. DICKEY: He started thinking seriously about the novel and working on it when we were actually spending a year abroad in Europe and we were living in a sort of tourist and fishing village called Positano, south of Naples, which is built into the cliffs above the Mediterranean. And there were people we knew--kids, teen-agers and young men--who would climb those cliffs barehanded, and I think that that was part of the way he developed that image.

But there had been an incident a couple of years before that in Atlanta where he and a friend of his named Al Brazelton and another friend named Louis King had gone canoeing on a weekend and had just really not been prepared for the river that they were on and wrecked the canoe and Al got beat up pretty badly. And I remember the night that they came home because they came home a whole lot later than they were supposed to, and they were three men who were really badly shaken up, although in the true story, and what actually happened, the--it was the rednecks who saved them, not who assaulted them, because they were stuck out on the river, they didn't know how to get out. And a kid named Lucas Gentry, who was out hunting with his dog, came across them and took them out and got them back to his--his father's place where th--I think, they drank a little moonshine and then got them out to the car so they could go home.
LAMB: Where was your father born?
Mr. DICKEY: He was born in Atlanta.
LAMB: Where were you born?
Mr. DICKEY: I was born in Nashville, but I never lived in Nashville. My father was in the service during the Korean War at that point and we were living in Waco, Texas. He was in--in the Air Force, and so my mother went home to her mother in Nashville to have me. And then I spent the first few months of my life in Waco and then in Houston and then in Europe, and then we just started moving for the--constantly for the rest of my childhood.
LAMB: You say that you found that your father lied a lot to you.
Mr. DICKEY: He lied a lot to everybody except to himself. He didn't lie to himself very much. He knew the truth of the things that he was saying, but he liked to make up stories about his life, about our lives, about all kinds of things.
LAMB: Where was this picture taken?
Mr. DICKEY: That picture was taken at the University of South Carolina. I went back for a day in 1986 to see him and try and get something going with him. It was right in the middle of the period where we'd been estranged for a long time. And the morning was real good, but by the afternoon he was drunk and things weren't so good.
LAMB: Back to the lying, what did he lie to you about the--World War II he was involved in?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, I grew up thinking my father was a pilot in P-61 night fighters over the Pacific, and he wasn't. He was the second guy in the plane. He was the intercept officer, the radar operator, which is no mean feat. He did 38 combat missions, he got five Bronze Stars, he did very honorable and very dangerous service during World War II over the Pacific, but he wasn't a pilot, and he always told he me was. And he would--he had washed out of--of--of pilot school in Camden, South Carolina, when he was in the service. He was trained as a gunner for a while, and then went a--went back into the more elite unit because he was smart and had good night vision.
LAMB: What about his so-called first wife, Australian?
Mr. DICKEY: Yeah, that was one of the strangest stories of all. Whe--he told me when I was about eight or nine years old that he had been married to someone before he married my mother and, you know, that in itself is kind of a surprising and shocking thing to hear when you're a little boy. And then he told me that this woman--he never told me what her name was--that this woman had gotten blood poisoning and had to have her arm amputated and had died all during the war. And I grew up thinking that that was true and spent my whole adal--adult life thinking that that was true. It wasn't something that I talked to him about a lot, but if I were to ask him, he'd say, `Yeah'--at one point he even went to Australia and he said he drove around and visited, you know, her relatives while he was in Australia.

But in about '95, '96, when we'd started having these long talks and sort of thinking about doing some kind of book about our lives, I asked him about that and he said, `I made it up.' And I said--I said, `Why'd you do that?' And he said, `Just to do it. I just thought it'd be interesting to do.' And I realized then that there was a whole fabric and texture of lies in his life and our lives that I hadn't really even begun to understand. What I had done was to try and get away from all that. I could feel the uncertainty in the house and that's why, basically, I bailed out when I was about 19, 20 years old and was--and then became a foreign correspondent when I was in my 20s and--and have lived overseas most of the rest of my life. But I didn't have any idea of how dense the texture of lies was until my father were--and I were reconciled in the--in '95 and '96.
LAMB: Where are you living now?
Mr. DICKEY: I live in Paris. I'm the Paris bureau chief for Newsweek.
LAMB: How long have you been there?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, I've betw--I've been--this is my second tour in Paris, and I was there from '89 to '93 and then from '95 to the present.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
Mr. DICKEY: I went to school--public high schools and then to the University of Virginia.
LAMB: In what states were you in the public high school?
Mr. DICKEY: Whew. Let's see, I graduated from--I never graduated from eles--from elementary school and graduated from junior highs twice. We've moved around that much. But I was in junior high school in--in Milwaukie, Oregon, outside of Portland, and then in Northridge, California. And then I went to high school in Sepulveda, California, and then in Loudoun County High School in Leesburg, Virginia.
LAMB: How did you pick the University of Virginia to go to school?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, I--I thought I wanted to go to school in the South and I wanted to go to a school that wasn't too fraternity-bound. That was--basically, for me, it was a choice between UNC, WNL and UVA, and ultimately, I just liked the look of UVA. I thought Thomas Jefferson was great, loved Monticello, you know?
LAMB: Where did you get the idea that you wanted to be a writer?
Mr. DICKEY: I drifted--I backed into that. I didn't think, certainly, when I was a teen-ager that I w--or even at university for a long time that I wanted to be a writer. What I thought I wanted to do was to make documentary films. I liked photography--I still love photography--I liked shooting films, I liked editing films. But when I was making my student films and my documentaries, eventually I went to Boston University to--to work more on a degree on--in documentary filmmaking. What people really liked that I did was writing film treatments and scripts, so I thought, `Well, if I'm gonna write, I might as well get serious about the writing.'
LAMB: Where's this picture from?
Mr. DICKEY: I went to school for a few months in Rennes, France, in Brittany, and that's a picture I took of myself on the street in Rennes. I think I was idolizing David Hemmings in blow-up at that point. But anyway, so all--all anybody wanted me to do was write, and then I was married, I had a little boy, I needed a regular income...
LAMB: What year did you get married first?
Mr. DICKEY: I got married in '69, November of '69.
LAMB: Your age?
Mr. DICKEY: I was 18. I was 18.
LAMB: Where did you meet your wife?
Mr. DICKEY: She was going to Foxcroft School in Middleburg, and after my experience in Rennes, I dropped out of s--high school for a couple of months and I was working in a camera shop in Middleburg and she used to come in and complain about her processing, and I fell in love and we got married.
LAMB: How long were you married?
Mr. DICKEY: We were married nine years, nine years.
LAMB: And had how many children?
Mr. DICKEY: Just one son, who's now a grown man, a captain in the Army.
LAMB: And after UVA and Boston and all, when did you first go to work for a journalistic institution?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, when I got out of graduate school I had to get a job that paid some kind of regular salary, and I came down to Washington--I really loved Washington and I wanted to work here and live here. I thought--I thought maybe I could get into the business of making political films and sort of media consultancy, that kinda thing. But as I looked around for a job, nobody was hiring me, and by sheer luck, an old friend of my father's was in the promotion department at The Washington Post and knew of an opening there working on a guidebook to Washington, DC. So I went to The Post on a temporary, you know, month-to-month contract to work--you know, write chapters about the statues of Washington, that kinda thing. And then I got a job in the book section at The Post, and that was '74, and started writing a column about the book business and then was managing editor of The Post Magazine and a metro correspondent and foreign correspondent.
LAMB: Which book is this for you?
Mr. DICKEY: This is my fourth book.
LAMB: What were the other three?
Mr. DICKEY: The first book was a book that came out in, I guess, '86 called "With the Contras." I was the first--I think I was the first correspondent for a major publication to go out into combat with the Contras in Nicaragua, and I wrote a big series about that for The Post. And then about a year later, I was at the Council on Foreign Relations and discovered that the commander that I had gone out with, who called himself Commandante Suicida, had become so out of control that the CIA had had to have him hunted down and killed. So I thought that'd be a pretty interesting story, so that's the story of him and of what was happening in Central America that surrounded his life.
LAMB: Second book.
Mr. DICKEY: Second book was called "Expats," which is a--still in print. It's a travel--sort of a travel book about foreigners living in the Arab and Muslim worlds and--and the weird kind of hybrid culture that the two culture--that the--the West and the East have made in places like Dubai or Tripoli, Libya or--or even in Bandar-e Abbas and Teheran, Iran.
LAMB: Third book.
Mr. DICKEY: Third book was a novel that came out last year called "Innocent Blood," which was actually instrumental in helping me work on this. It's a novel about terrorism. I wanted to write about a Muslim terrorist, but I wanted to take away the racist elements of the analysis. I didn't want the readers to see a dark-skinned Arab that they would immediately typecast. So I imagined a kid whose parents were Yugoslav immigrants in the f--late '40s, who grows up--who's born and grows up in Kansas. It's a dysfunctional family--mother's an alcoholic, father dies when he's young; goes into the Army and becomes a Ranger, goes and does Gulf War--does the Gulf War, and doesn't really have any consciousness of the fact that his father was a Muslim from Bosnia until his mother dies and then goes to discover his roots in Bosnia and is sort of taken under the wing of a--kind of a Ramzi Yousef character or an Osama bin Laden character, and come--and decides to bring the war back to America. It actually--it's--it's relevant to a lot of headlines, but it--it worked out pretty well. I'd--it started out as a book that I was gonna write about terrorism and it would up being a book mainly about families and alienation and broken homes and the need for roots.
LAMB: As a foreign corespondent for Newsweek, you've lived in what different cities?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, for The Washington Post and Newsweek, Mexico City, Cairo, Paris, twice in Cairo, twice in Paris.
LAMB: As you no doubt know, when you said that you had spent some time with the Council on Foreign Relations, that's a red flag to some people out there, and I wanna--I wanna ask you...
Mr. DICKEY: Well, I--well, actually in "Innocent Blood" part of the plot is the plot to blow up the Council on Foreign Relations.
LAMB: But just explain why you would spend--how long'd you spend there?
Mr. DICKEY: I was a fellow there for nine months, but when--I started working on "With the Contras" I was there, so I was sort of living in New York and around the council for about 18 months.
LAMB: What do you say to those conspiracy theorists that the CFR is running the world?
Mr. DICKEY: I was hoping that that was the case, and I was looking and I was thinking, as I went to those meetings, `Maybe--maybe I can find some way to get my hand in on running the world,' but I was really disappointed.
LAMB: What do they do?
Mr. DICKEY: They talk about foreign policy issues. You have a--the--the people who have the power to run the world or to influence global issues don't know each other because of the Council on Foreign Relations. They know each other because they've got that kind of power and they're in contact with each other. Most of what goes on at the council is a combination of--of speaking engagements and--and think-tank work. It's a unique institution, but it's--there's nothing sinister about it.
LAMB: Why did you write this book with all the--I--I'll--I'll just read a paragraph where you expose your own life: `I've clung to the idea that my father and I were very different, but I was living a pale, strained imitation of his life. I drank a lot. I started to have quiet, guilt-ridden affairs. My marriage was coming apart, but Susan and I were too stubborn to admit it.' That's your first wife, Susan?
Mr. DICKEY: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: `These were, I realize now, the worst years of my life.' Why do you want people to know that?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, it's to put in context the relationship between myself and my father. This isn't a confessional book--there's that paragraph--but it isn--in there, I'm--I'm very frank about myself, but I didn't think it was possible, at least not for me, not with my background as a journalist, to write this book without being very straightforward about everything in our relationship, mine and my father's. You have to remember that part of the--what I was reacting against was this fabric of lies that he created. But it's also true that I wanted to make this book as vivid as possible for me and for anybody who knew my father and who knew us, and the only way I knew to do that was to tell the truth about it, and that's what I tried to do.
LAMB: Whose idea was it for this cover?
Mr. DICKEY: That's a picture that was taken--all those pic--not all the pictures you've shown, but that picture, the picture on the back and that other picture that was taken in 1986 were all taken the same morning in--by a photographer named Will McEntire in--in Columbia. This is at the time when "With the Contras" came out and I was on a book tour for that and it took me through Columbia.
LAMB: Let me go back to my original question: Why this book? What was the--for you, what--well, let me ask it thi--I'll give you two--two ideas. Was it for writing purposes, that you wanted to write, or for personal purposes, you wanted to get all this out?
Mr. DICKEY: Both. Both. I wanted to write it, I wanted to tell my father's story, I wanted to get as much down about him as quickly as I could before it all got old and got lost in other people's anecdotes or other people's biographies of him, other people's interpretations of what he did and the way he was. I--I wanted to m--I wanted to take possession of him and, in a sense, I wanted to keep him alive. When I went back and went--started going back and seeing him a lot, from '94 until the time he died, my central purpose was to keep him sober and keep him alive as long as I possibly could because I had missed him for a very long time.
LAMB: How long was the gap that you didn't have any time with him at all?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, no serious time, almost 20 years, 18 years. From the time my mother died in '76, at en--at the end of '76, until I went back in the summer of '94. I would go back occasionally. There wasn't a thing--there was not--no vendetta. I didn't say, `I'm never gonna talk to you again,' he never said anything like that, but we didn't write, we didn't call, we didn't talk very often, except on the most formal and obvious occasions, and--and it was--it just seemed like time that was completely lost to me and lost to him. He was drunk most of that time, and he was--he was--he was not--he was not the father that I'd remembered from my childhood and he wasn't the man I wanted him to be and he wasn't the man that he wanted to be.
LAMB: Did he know you were writing this?
Mr. DICKEY: Yeah, I started it--he knew that I was writing about the making of the movie "Deliverance" and what went before and what came after and about it as the watershed event in our lives. And we started, even in '95, talking about it and talking through various things that happened. By '96, the real summer of deliverance in my mind, we were--he was very sick, but we would--we had this thing--we were down at a--a house we had near the coast in South Carolina that's a three-story house.
LAMB: Where is it?
Mr. DICKEY: It's near Pawleys Island, south of Myrtle Beach. And he wanted to sleep in the upstairs bedroom, even though he was desperately, desperately weak and had to get air from an oxygen generator. So to get him up to the bedroom, we'd have to take one landing of stairs at a time.
LAMB: This was '95, '96?
Mr. DICKEY: This is '96.
LAMB: He's how old?
Mr. DICKEY: He was 71, 72.
LAMB: Ailing from what?
Mr. DICKEY: He had a--after his attack of hepatitis--alcoholic hepatitis, his system was really weakened, and a condition that he had had apparently before but that hadn't seemed to bother him very much, a fibrosis of the lungs, really started to become progressively worse. That's a--what killed him, finally. His lungs just petrified until he couldn't take anymore oxygen in and he suffocated.
LAMB: Was he drinking at the end?
Mr. DICKEY: No, he wasn't. That's the thing. He quit--he got alcoholic hepatitis in--in--in--in October of--of '94. He almost died. His body swelled up. It looked like a waterbed. I mean, it was grotesque. And he--and he was desperately, desperately weak. And it could've affected--affected him in many ways. One of the--one of the side effects of this kind of condition is dementia. But, in fact, his brain was in better shape than it had been for as long as I could remember him. And so now, instead of not talking at all, we talked every chance that we got. I would call him on the phone, he would call me. I was working on this novel, I would read him passages from it. We started working on this book, talking about the "Summer of Deliverance." We worked together to get my baby sister into school, which was not difficult as it turned out because she's a--really, a brilliant young woman.
LAMB: By--this was the--your sister by Deborah...
Mr. DICKEY: By Deborah.
LAMB: ...the second one.
Mr. DICKEY: Yeah, Deborah's daughter. And--and--and we just had a lot of stuff that we were doing together that was fabulous, and this was part of it. He didn't know it was gonna be this book. I didn't know it was gonna be this book because we were talking things out. And it would've--if he had lived longer, which I really--really regret that he did not, I--certainly, it would've been difficult--different because we would've been able to talk about certain things that--that I had to find in that--find out in other ways once he was dead.
LAMB: You get rather detailed about this trip up to the third floor on that home.
Mr. DICKEY: Yeah.
LAMB: What--what was the--what was the end result of all that?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, the reason I brought it up, actually, is because by that time, he knew that I was working on a book that wasn't just about the filming of "Deliverance," and he was very conscious as we were talking 'cause we'd have to wait on each landing of s--the stairs for maybe 20, 30 minutes for him to catch enough breath to make it up eight more stairs to the next landing. It would take us an hour to get up to the bedroom, at least, and it gave us a lot of time to talk. And he would say--he would talk about how--you know, even this--this idea of being on these landings, you could really s--you could structure a play maybe about that--'cause he was always creating--you could structure a play or maybe a whole book, call it "The Landings Dialogue," something like that. And--and at the end of one of those long sessions, we got into a discussion about truth and poetry and the imagination, and he knew--he knew what I was doing with this book, and he said--and he said, you know, `Remember'--he said, `The truth is important to you.' And I said, `The--to a journalist it's important.' He said, `Well, remember this: Remember what I was to you.' And that's what the book is about. That is the book.
LAMB: He wrote how many poems?
Mr. DICKEY: Oh, f--you know, hundreds, but...
LAMB: Have you read them all?
Mr. DICKEY: I think I have read them all, yes. There are about 40 or 50 that are really wonderful poems, and there are probably a dozen that act--could stand as the--the best poets--poetry written by anyone in his generation and maybe some of the best--I would say some of the best poetry written by an American in this century.
LAMB: You tell the story of him being selected to read a poem at inaug--at inauguration.
Mr. DICKEY: Yes. Well, he w--Jimmy Carter asked him to compose a poem for him. By the mid-'70s, Dad was writing a lot of poems sort of on commission, and he was asked by Carter to write a poem for the inauguration. He d--he thought that he was gonna do a--a Robert Frost kinda thing and read it at the actual inauguration, but when the scheduling came up, it turned out that it was part of the gala pre-inaugural ball that was held, or--or presentation that was done at the Kennedy Center. And as it turned out, it's lucky that he didn't perform on the podium for the inauguration the way he did on the stage at the Kennedy Center because he got incredibly drunk that night. And I know other people who were there who remember it just the way I do, as w--as a s--phenomenal spectacle of public drunkenness.
LAMB: You write around the time when your sister--Is it Bronnie--is that what you call her?
Mr. DICKEY: That's her nickname. Bronwyn is her name.
LAMB: Right. Bronwyn? You say, `A scene erupted in my memory. It was that afternoon a few days after my mother died'--when did she die?
Mr. DICKEY: She died in '76--October of '76.
LAMB: If I calculate it right, about 50 years old?
Mr. DICKEY: She was 50.
LAMB: Died where?
Mr. DICKEY: She died in a hospital in Columbia, South Carolina.
LAMB: Of what?
Mr. DICKEY: She died of a complication from cirrhosis of the liver, or from hardening of the liver, where you get varicose veins in your esophagus and then they rupture and you bleed to death through your mouth.
LAMB: And was she a drinker all her life?
Mr. DICKEY: She drank all her life, but she was a heavy drinker the last 10 years of her life, a really heavy drinker, co--a co--a constant drinker. Anybody who was at our house in the '70s remembers the tinkling of ice cubes at about 6 in the morning when she would get up and start making breakfast for everybody and make herself a Cutty Sark and soda.
LAMB: What impact did that have on you?
Mr. DICKEY: It horrified me. It horrified me because it's a slow process. The death itself comes rather suddenly under those circumstances. But she became more and more bloated, she was out of it a lot of the time. She would--we would have--there were horrific fights in the house and she would call me and say she was leaving my father and I would say yes, and then the next day she wouldn't remember that we'd even had the conversation.
LAMB: And at--what is her age in this picture here?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, that picture was taken in 1954, so some 22 years earlier. She's in her late 20s there.
LAMB: W--I want to get back to that quote, but where did she, do you think, get the interest in drinking so much?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, she was trying to escape, I think, from a--f--from the--the tension and the pain of her relationship with my father. And my father liked to live big, grandly and publicly, and he liked to feed all of his appetites, whether he was drinking or whoring or having mistresses or picking up students or whatever he was doing. And it was all very public. He may sometimes have thought it was hidden, but it certainly wasn't, and n--not from her, and especially--once he started going on the--the poetry reading circuit a lot in the early '60s, he began to prefer the adulation of his fans to the sort of problems that were given to him by his family, especially my mother. So she was increasingly isolated, and the more successful he became, the more isolated she became. People loved her. I mean, she was a wonderful woman, she was very sweet, thoughtful, caring and she was a terrific mother. And she was a great wife to my father and he adored her, but he was endlessly cruel to her, and--and her way of dealing with that was to--basically to poison herself consistently with alcohol until she died.
LAMB: This is another story you tell about him coming--your father, James Dickey, James Lafayette Dickey--why was he named James Lafayette Dickey?
Mr. DICKEY: There are other James Lafayette Dickeys in the Dickey family who preceded him. He's actually James Lafayette Dickey III, but where the Lafayette came in, I think it was just some fancy of--of one of the--one of the Dickey forebears. I don't think we have any relationship to Lafayette.
LAMB: He came to town, staying at the Georgetown Inn...
Mr. DICKEY: Staying at the Georgetown Inn, yeah.
LAMB: ...he was drunk.
Mr. DICKEY: Yeah. And what you have to know is that this is very soon after my mother had died, and I had desperately wanted him to quit drinking then and had held him in my arms after the funeral, when he went at--when he had the shakes, and he had promised me he wasn't gonna drink anymore. And I had quit drinking, and I thought, `OK, maybe we can--we can build something here.' So then I was supposed to meet him at--at Georgetown, at the Georgetown Inn. And I went to--to pick him up to meet him at the hotel, and I waited in the lobby and waited in the lobby, and he didn't show up and didn't show up. And finally I got them to open his room and I went in and he was passed out on his bed.
LAMB: And by the way, this is another world, but he was here to be on the "Panorama" show, hosted by Maury Povich...
Mr. DICKEY: Exactly. He was gonna be on--on...
LAMB: ...who went on to do a show called "Maury."
Mr. DICKEY: Yeah, he's--he was gonna be on "Panorama" the next d--day and, in--and, in fact, was on "Panorama" the next day.
LAMB: Was he sober?
Mr. DICKEY: He was reasonably sober for that, but he certainly wasn't sober the night before, because what had happened is he was--at that point--it was about two months after my mother had died--he was planning to--to get married to Deborah, who had been one of his students and whom I had not known or known anything about. And he wanted to convince me that this was what he needed and was a great idea. But he also wanted to tell me how guilty he was about my mother's death. And so his way of doing that was to go into a kind of long, incoherent performance on his knees in which he finally decided to re-enact my mother's death, sort of vomiting blood. It was a pretty grotesque, repulsive scene.
LAMB: I mean, the quote here is, "Thirty years I was married to that woman," he s--you quote him as saying, "30 years," in big letters, "and I killed her." Did he think that he had--actually had killed her?
Mr. DICKEY: He think--he thought that his cruelty had killed her. He thought that the way he treated her had killed her. He felt very guilty about that and he felt, in fact, very guilty about that to the end of his life. I mean, poor Deborah, in a lot of ways, she just wasn't at all ready. She was younger than me. She's a few months younger than I am. She came from a background in South Carolina that didn't give her a lot of ego support to begin with, and certainly didn't give her any kind of ability to cope with this sort of situation. She used to come in--when they were first married, she used to come into the house in Columbia and find my father just sitting looking out at the lake in tears, and that was--a lot of that was about guilt about my mother. And then when my father was sick and thinking about his own death a lot, one of the things that we came back to again and again was his desire to be buried down there on the coast in South Carolina near my mother, and where he is to--today.
LAMB: I wondered--I first saw, you know, about this in The New Yorker--and if I can see where it is here on this--right here is your--your story, "James Dickey's Inferno." What did this magazine do for the--kind of the boost of your book?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, I think the--that article drew a lot of attention, and not least because that was Tina Brown's last issue, so everybody was--everybody was taking a look at it and...
LAMB: July 13th issue.
Mr. DICKEY: ...and--and I think a lot of people found that excerpt very moving. The New Yorker does a strange thing where they run excerpts, but they don't tell you they're excerpts. So--but it--it--it came out about a month before the book wou--appeared in the stores, and I think it was--was helpful...
LAMB: What is it...
Mr. DICKEY: ...and I've gotten a lot of response from it.
LAMB: Have you published much yourself in The New Yorker?
Mr. DICKEY: No, actually, this is the first thing I ever had in The New Yorker.
LAMB: But you--all through your book, you talk about the importance of The New Yorker to your father.
Mr. DICKEY: Oh, it was his publication, it was what made him in the '60s. He got a contract--when Howard Moss was the poetry editor, my father got a contract for first refusal on every poem he wrote. He had to show it to The New Yorker and they paid him a lot of money for each poem they published and they paid him all k--there were benefits that accrued to him. It was basically a combination of a Gu--Guggenheim fellowship and the money he was getting from The New Yorker that allowed us to--allowed him to quit the advertising business and allowed us to just go move to Europe for a year in 1963--'62.
LAMB: Did you have any--I mean, the fact that you were published in The New Yorker, did that mean a lot to you or did you try for this yourself?
Mr. DICKEY: It meant a lot to me to have this excerpt published in The New Yorker because one of the things that had happened with my father is that, as his life had gotten crazier, as he'd been more drunk, as he'd been married to Debbie and their life had gotten more and more enclosed in another mutually destructive relationship, they had--had broken off contact with a lot of the world that had been really important to my father, not least of all The New Yorker. So I really wanted to have him be back in The New Yorker. Yeah, that was very important to me.
LAMB: You mentioned earlier that you'd stopped drinking. Are you still not drinking?
Mr. DICKEY: No, no. I drink. I drink. I live in Paris and I drink wine and I try not to drink to excess.
LAMB: For how long had you stopped?
Mr. DICKEY: I stopped for about a year after my mother's death, and then I started again, and I've been through phases in my life where I was drinking, I think, much more than was healthy. But I try and keep a close eye on my drinking.
LAMB: You say that your father thought alcohol was about joy.
Mr. DICKEY: Yeah. My father would say that he couldn't even taste the whisky. He--he had this thing, and I--I always thought this was another one of his--his fictions, but I don't know what the clinical explanation would be--he said that his nose had been broken so many times when he was in--playing high school football that he didn't really have much of a sense of smell, and if you don't have much of a sense of smell, you don't--you can't taste very much, either. So he was quite out front about it. He drank alcohol because he wanted to alter his consciousness. And when he was a young man--I think this happens to a lot of people--when he was a younger man, when he was in his 20s and 30s, he could drink like that and it altered his consciousness and maybe he could keep it all under control, but when he got into his 40s and 50s, he kept drinking at the same pace, and it just blew him away.
LAMB: Have you studied alcoholism?
Mr. DICKEY: You mean as--reading lots of books about it and that kinda thing?
LAMB: Yeah.
Mr. DICKEY: No.
LAMB: Do you have any idea--I mean, from what you've seen i--it--what--how does it happen? I mean, y--you--you've never been an alcoholic?
Mr. DICKEY: No, I don't think so.
LAMB: But was your father--I mean, was it a chemistry problem with him or he just drank and drank and drank and--and couldn't stop or--and your mother and even Debbie?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, I think--I mean, you know, I c--obviously, I'm a prime candidate to be an alcoholic, but I think in the case of my father, it was that desire to be in touch with a kind of madness that he felt he didn't have. I think he l--he liked--there was a macho part of it, there's a traditional Southern kinda Scotch-Irish part of it, there's probably some genetic element to it. But he liked to be drunk and it was an escape for him. He said it was about joy. Later on, it certainly was not. When he got sick, he quit drinking and he just quit. And I knew that he could do that, but I knew that he didn't wanna do it. My mother, I think, it was a different kind of pathology. She came from--her father basically abandoned her mother when she was a little girl. She was raised by relatives. Her mother was a very hardworking executive secretary in the attorney general's office in--in Tennessee. And I think my mother just felt abandoned and she tried to escape into alcohol. Whether there was a big genetic component there or not, I don't know, but her mother was not an alcoholic and neither was her father.
LAMB: Where did you write this?
Mr. DICKEY: I st--I had started writing it in South Carolina that summer of '96, and then when my father died in January of '97, I couldn't write anything. I couldn't even write the obituary for Newsweek. The best piece that Newsweek did about my father was actually written by my sister Bronwyn when she was--for an English class when she was just 15, which is an absolutely beautiful tribute to my father, that was published as a My Turn column in Newsweek. But I couldn't write anything, and my memory sort of blanked out. We had taped all these conversations and my wife Carol very diligently set to work transcribing those tapes, hours and days of tapes. And so--and then Diana was killed and I had to cover that for a month solidly.

So in October of last year, I thought, `If I don't take some time off, I'm never gonna be able to finish this, but I'm also not gonna be able to recover any of the memories that I have of my father,' because I'd look at these transcripts and I'd look at the questions that I had asked him about things that had happened in our lives, and I couldn't remember those things that I was asking him about, even in--in conversations a year before. And a good friend of mine who's a lawyer in Pittsburgh sent me an e-mail--we were e-mailing back and forth about this--and said that he had worked with his father in the same law office for 20 years, and when his father died and the desk was cleaned off, he realized that he couldn't remember his father's face. All he could remember of his father was a sort of a silhouette and it didn't have any real substance to it, and I didn't want that to happen. So Newsweek was very kind and let me take a couple of weeks off, and I went down to Positano, that fishing village where we'd lived...
LAMB: In Italy.
Mr. DICKEY: ...in Italy--and which--where I had not dared to go back. I spent a lot of vacations in Italy, I've been to Italy a lot, my wife's Italian-American, but I could never, even if we'd--were only five miles away from Positano, I couldn't go back there because it was the time everybody remembered as the happiest time in our lives. So I did go back and it hadn't changed much at all, and it brought back a flood of memories and that--that's when I started really seriously writing the book. And I wrote about, I guess, a third of it, and then I had to go clean out the house in South Carolina--it was sold--the one in Columbia. And then I just kept writing.
LAMB: Any time of day you write?
Mr. DICKEY: Yeah, I--because I was doing my job for Newsweek, too, so I was writing very late at night and very early in the morning. And I finished the book, actually, in Tehran last February. I was there doing a story about political changes in Iran, and I was up late every night and I would just--I would just not sleep very much.
LAMB: Any special place you d--like to write or on anything special, like, do you use a computer?
Mr. DICKEY: Oh, I use a laptop, yeah. I use a laptop.
LAMB: Do you have to be in a certain kinda mood?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, you have to--I find with all the books that I wrote that I had to be in a certain mood to start them, but if the book's working, it cu--it carries you forward, it--it sort of pulls you along, and I couldn't stop writing this. Once I started really writing it in October, I had a few moments, especially right after we closed down the house and sold it in--at the end of October, where I got a little bit stalled again, but basically, I just wrote every night and every morning and all weekend, every weekend until--until it was done.
LAMB: I earlier asked you about the phrase that you use in the book that your father was the `old dilettante of madness.'
Mr. DICKEY: Mmm.
LAMB: And there's other phrases like that in the book. Do you work on those for an extended length of time or do they just come to you?
Mr. DICKEY: They just come to me. They just--it--it happens. That's--especially in this book, there was a--my--i--if--my--the way I write, the--"Innocent Blood," the novel's a little bit different because it's in the voice of a narrator--but the way I write is a very simple, very spare kind of journalistic style. Joan Didion is a much greater influence on my writing than my father. But in this, I was writing and I was pulling material from his work and from his letters, and I think it was a--it was a good mix because you go--you go along with my rather flat tone, and then you get these moments of sort of literary exaltation in the encounters with my father. And--but, no, I don't--I don't work a long time on phrases like that. I usually--usually do a pretty mediocre first draft and I'm usually pretty pleased with the second draft.
LAMB: For those that read the book, catch us up on where Bronwyn is, your sister.
Mr. DICKEY: Bronwyn's at one of the better prep schools in--in New England. When she's--has time off...
LAMB: How old is she?
Mr. DICKEY: She's 17. When she has time off, she stays at my brother's or she goes down and visits her mother, who is in great shape. If--if the next question is Deborah...
LAMB: Where's Deborah?
Mr. DICKEY: ...Deborah is teaching English as a second language and living in--in Georgia and has just turned her life around, has been--since she was divorced from my father and certainly since my father's death, she has really concentrated on controlling all the demons that had really haunted her all her life. And she's in great shape.
LAMB: We just pa--in passing, mentioned your brother, Kevin. Where is he?
Mr. DICKEY: Kevin is one of the leading specialists in a--in a f--in the field of radiology. He's a--he's a radiologist. He teaches at Yale and he's on the staff at St. Raphael's Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut.
LAMB: And you mentioned your wife Carol. When did you divorce Susan and when did you marry, and how did you find Carol?
Mr. DICKEY: I divorced Susan in '79 and we had been separated for about a year and a half before that. And when I was separated, and I was dating various people here in Washington--I was a metro reporter at that point for The Post--there was a young immigration lawyer named Michael Maggio who was very helpful to me and a great source of mine. He opened his own practice, and at the party, I met Carol, who--whose family were friends of his from--from Philadelphia. And I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. I thought she was just marvelous and still do, as a matter of fact.
LAMB: What does she do?
Mr. DICKEY: She teaches--actually, she teaches English as a second language and runs a program f--sort of runs the whole curriculum for a language school in--in Paris.
LAMB: You have a picture in the book of Robert Penn Warren right here a...
Mr. DICKEY: No. Actually, that's Robert Lowell.
LAMB: I'm sorry, Robert Lowell. Yeah, I d--should've looked at the co--m--who was he and what is this picture?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, Robert Lowell is--there was a time, especially in the '60s, when Robert Lowell and James Dickey were considered the two greatest poets of their generation. But Robert Lowell is one of the Lowells of Boston, comes from that patrician background and wrote a much more cultured, in some ways, kinds of--kind of poetry than my father did. And they had really opposing voices, but they were also good friends, and they would get together occasionally and--and I think in that particular picture, I wasn't there, but Lowell had come to speak at the University of South Carolina, where my father was teaching, and they were--went out to have a few drinks and catch a few rays on the dock on the lake in the back of our house in Columbia.
LAMB: You have a quote ab--from your father--or about your father. You say, "Jim--Jim Dickey"--and what did people who knew him call him?
Mr. DICKEY: Jim.
LAMB: ..."Jim Dickey loved the power of coincidence, even more intrigued by the power of dreams to defeat time."
Mr. DICKEY: Yeah.
LAMB: Is that a quote from him or was that just you remembering what he had said?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, he said that any number of times. I think that--that is a--a paraphrase of the things that he would say. He loved the idea, which he had read about in J.B. Priestley and Arthur Kessler and some other people, that you could--that you travel through time in your dreams and that you can travel forward as well as backward, and you can be in cont--in con--in contact with a whole different level, not just of experience but of life through dreams. And I think he loved that, and when there would be a coincidence, when he would have a sense of deja vu, he--he was absolutely fascinated by it. And he didn't ascribe it to any higher power, but it was a thing that w--it was just a phenomenon of life that--that he really enjoyed.
LAMB: You said you had trouble writing the last couple chapters.
Mr. DICKEY: Yeah, because they--they're about my father's death and they reach a kind of an emotional pitch that's extremely intense. There was a--one of the things that I--I arranged to have done when I was going back to Columbia was my father kept teaching and kept teaching. Even when--even though he could barely walk out of the house, for a long time, he would still try to go to school in a wheelchair and teach his classes 'cause he loved to teach and he loved his students. And I arranged to have the classes at the house and I also arranged to have them recorded because he'd taught for more than 20 years, almost 30 years at the University of South Carolina and they had never taken the time or made the effort to do really good recordings of those classes, which are probably the best poetry classes anybody ever taught. They real--he was really an inspiration for his students and a wonderful teacher. And he only gave one of those classes before he got so sick that he had to be hospitalized, and then when he was hospitalized, he died.

But it was recorded, and when I went back for the funeral, his assistant gave me the tape and I was with a good friend and with my brother and we were driving around town and making arrangements and doing the things that needed to be done, and as were were driving back to the house, I put the tape in the--in the s--car stereo and started to play it. And it is my father's own eulogy, basically, to himself and it is absolutely heartbreaking, but it is also really inspiring because it is--it is about the way he saw his own place and the place of the poet and of poetry in modern society. And there's a lot of that in that chapter, and I find it very difficult.
LAMB: If somebody wants to hear James Dickey's voice, are there tapes somewhere?
Mr. DICKEY: There are, and, in fact, some wonderful things have happened over the last month or so since the book came out. There is a--there are tapes of him reading "Deliverance." You can't get them anymore, but there were long-playing records, vinyl records of him reading his poetry that were produced in the early '70s, one by Spoken Arts and one by Kedman Records. But thanks to the Internet, you can also hear him on the Web. The New York Times--I don't know how long it'll be up--but when The New York Times ran their review of this book in The New York Times Book Review, they also put up on the Web a 90-minute--or, I mean, a--I'm sorry, an hourlong reading that he gave in 1971 at the Y in New York that's just a fabulous reading.
LAMB: How do you get to The New York Times Web site?
Mr. DICKEY: I guess--I forget what the--what the s--what the url is, but it's, I guess, www.newyorktimes or nytimes.com, and then you have to sort of navigate your way through to `books.' You have to be a subscriber to the--to the Times Web site in order to get there, but if you get there and you've got one of these programs that allows you to do live streaming of video and audio, then the--the voice recording is just fantastic. My brother and I listened to it--the first poem he reads is a poem about my brother and I, and we were listening to it on my brother's computer in New Haven the other day and just--it was spooky.
LAMB: Here's the book, and the cover says "Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son," Christopher Dickey, foreign correspondent for Newsweek, thank you very much.
Mr. DICKEY: Thank you.


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