Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Author! Author!: Robert E. Howard

The Whole Wide World (1996) is based on the memoir of Novalyne Price, about her relationship with Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian.

When Novalyne (Renée Zellweger), a school teacher who has hopes of becoming an author herself, meets Bob Howard (Vincent D'Onofrio), an established pulp fiction writer, in small-town 1930's Texas, it seems like it could be a match made to order. The intelligent and curious Novalyne offers a form of intellectual stimulation that the thorny, somewhat reclusive Bob is lacking, as well as being a mildly free-spirited alternative to the local dating pool. He tries to mentor her on the method of trimming one's writing sails to navigate through the waters of publishing, at the same time revealing to her his rather Nietzschean philosophy and his muddled, mystical view of life. Novalyne finds herself growing closer and closer to Bob the more he opens up to her.

There is a bump in the road, however. Bob's mother is sick and dying, and many nights when Novalyne would rather go to the movies or to a dance, Bob feels he must stay at home to nurse her. When Novalyne insists he must make a greater commitment to their relationship, Bob refuses to be "tied down," and they part ways. Novalyne begins dating Bob's friend Truett, a more conventional partner and less eccentric than the moody Bob. Bob, seeing the two together, realizes that Novalyne might be worth modifying some of his behavior for, but efforts at a reconciliation fail.

It all comes to an end the night Bob's mother enters the coma that will lead to her inevitable death. Lacking any further deep ties to tether him to the world, full of the black despair and lonely pride to which his philosophy has inevitably led him, Bob commits suicide, leaving his emotionally distant father and Novalyne to puzzle over the life of the strange cuckoo that had been smuggled into their existence.

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