Paul has constructed a meticulous, intriguing, and long-overdue appraisal of a talent deserving of wider attention ... sheds plenty of much-needed light on a reticent, dignified and forgivingly comic artist who, while he 'may only have written for himself ... also wrote for the ages.'
Literary Alchemist, Paul writes, is in part a response to a challenge he found in a letter to Connell from the critic Webster Schott, that someone would 'eventually try to figure out how to reconcile the author of Mrs. Bridge with the one who wrote Deus lo Volt!' This, he knows, is a somewhat quixotic undertaking, but he goes about it sensibly and energetically. While Connell, who died in 2013 at the age of eighty-eight, had an ambivalent relationship with fame, he would doubtless have respected Paul’s approach, in which superlative research and a sensitive appraisal of Connell’s writing accrue to form a subtly vivid portrait of an 'introverted rebel' wholly devoted to the 'quaint mania' of the craft.
Veteran journalist Steve Paul has made a valiant effort to resuscitate Connell’s status with Literary Alchemist: The Writing Life of Evan S. Connell, the first full-length biography of the writer. For the most part, he has succeeded: Mr. Paul’s biography had me rifling second-hand stores in search of Connell rarities ... Mr. Paul dilates on this period of Connell’s life, when it might have been handled in a few pages. He also draws too much attention to his own research; these sections intrude on Connell’s story and feel superfluous. Still, Literary Alchemist has pinned down a hard-to-pin-down character. If it draws more readers to Connell’s astonishing body of work, then Mr. Paul has done his job.