Joe Gould only wrote about himself. Then Joe Gould died, and Joseph Mitchell revealed his secret, and then Joseph Mitchell stopped writing, and then Joseph Mitchell died.
Maybe Gould’s failure convinced Mitchell of the futility of his own writing. If Gould’s great work only lived in his head, what hope was there for Mitchell’s own novel, his achingly personal novel? So why write?
The fates of Joe Gould and Joseph Mitchell were inextricably intertwined. Joe Gould died, interned in a mental hospital, in 1957. Seven years later Joseph Mitchell wrote Joe Gould’s Secret. He wrote nothing for the next thirty years, and died in 1992. There must have been something in Joseph Mitchell that died, or decayed, or withered away with Joe Gould’s undignified demise.
Joe Gould was a Bowery bohemian, through and through. He scrounged up money from begging, from his wealthier acquaintances, from tourists who appreciated seeing a breathing, authentic New York bohemian, to spend on beer and martinis. He was gifted food at diners, then proceeded to eat with a spoon whatever ketchup he could get his ha…