Biography Review  

Milking the Moon: A Southerner's Story of Life on This Planet
by Eugene Walter as told to Kathernine Clark
Crown Publishing, 2001
ISBN: 06-096-0594-1
Time is a great storyteller, goes the old Irish proverb.  Unfortunately, Eugene Walter's time on this planet ended too soon. Mobile, Alabama's beloved novelist, poet, artist, and social commentator left us during the spring of 1998 at the age of 76.

Eugene was not Irish, but he certainly cherished his European ties. His grandfather was Bavarian. His grandmother French-Swiss. Another grandfather hailed from Norway. And, of course, Eugene spent thirty years in Paris and Rome. But European tendencies aside, Eugene was pure Mobilian at heart, a bona fide son of the South.
 

Few would argue that Eugene was a great storyteller. He spun a tale with the best, enlivening social gatherings, amusing counts and countesses, and entertaining guests in his "no-cat room". But throughout the years, the story of Eugene's personal life remained, for the most part, a mystery. Certain friends knew certain things, but no one knew enough to put all the pieces together.

During the spring of 2000, Carolyn Haines and Rebecca Barrett took a step in that direction by publishing a book titled Moments with Eugene—a collection of stories about Eugene, as told by numerous friends and acquaintances. But the sum of all parts still failed to capture many aspects of Eugene's life—missing parts that only Eugene could explain (if only he were still alive).

Enter Katherine Clark—professor of literature at New Orleans' Dillard University and author of Motherwit: An Alabama Midwife's Story.

Katherine met Eugene in 1987 (soon after he returned to Mobile from Rome). Intrigued by Eugene's colorful tales and his eccentric lifestyle, she asked Eugene if he would participate in an oral biography. Eugene agreed. During the summer of 1991, Katherine met with Eugene daily, recording his observations, thoughts, and adventures on tape. Ten years later, those tapes are now presented to us in book form—Milking the Moon.

During Milking the Moon's creation, some were concerned that Katherine might present a subjective rendition of Eugene Walter as viewed through her eyes. Fortunately, that does not seem to have happened. Katherine has given us a brief twelve-page introduction that sums up her perceptions, but the rest of the book is pure           Eugene—in his own words. "In putting together the final manuscript," says Katherine, "I have strenuously avoided any editorial meddling."  Judging by the rich use of Eugene's language, I believe she did just that. Only Eugene Walter could have created the rich, colorful, literary, sometimes baudy passages contained in Milking the Moon.

And did Eugene's narratives tell us all about his curiously exceptional life? Have all the blanks now been filled in? Of course not! Eugene wouldn't let us off the hook that easily. "People who stand upright in the usual way approach life in the usual way," said Eugene. "But I'm more likely to be found upside down, swinging from the chandelier."  Upside down or not, revolving bits and pieces of Eugene's life now make better sense—thanks to Eugene's stories of life in Mobile, life in the Arctic Circle, life in New York, Paris, Rome, and his triumphant, albeit sometimes saddened, return to Mobile.

"His is the tale of someone who simply followed his heart and lived in the moment and was rewarded with a transcendendent life of art and culture," says Katherine. "Knowing that the journey was all, Eugene relished every detour and seized every opportunity for being sidetracked along the way."

How true. And it's those odd little detours that make Milking the Moon such a delightful read for Mobilians, Mobilians-at-large, and Mobilians-at-heart.

Joseph Sackett
Southern Scribe Reviews 

© 2001 Southern Scribe Reviews, All Rights Reserved