Fritz Leiber: three autobiographical short plays in prose
"The Secret Songs" first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1962, edited by Avram Davidson; can be read here.
And you should. Oddly enough, as I've noted on the blog before, these three linked play/stories, featuring as characters (mostly) analogues of Leiber, his wife Jonquil, their son Justin, and Leiber's parents the actors Virginia and Fritz Leiber, Sr., have never been published together in a single volume, although they flow in a natural progression.
|illustration by Edmund Emshwiller for "The Secret Songs"|
"The Secret Songs" portrays the overlapping psychodramas affecting a settled married couple, he addicted to alcohol and other depressants, she to various over-the-counter stimulants, and the divergence from consensus reality that their chemical intake and personalities, and their interactions, inspire.
While this one is a psychodrama, dancing at the borders of fantasy in a manner less heavy-handed than a lot of magical realism and its offshoots, for a Leiber analog visiting his widowed mother, who's been keeping the old house as in part a kind of museum devoted to the memory of her husband. Leiber's father in his last years (in the story and to some extent in reality) moved from doing his own stage makeup to dabbling in self-portraits as theatrical characters in various artforms, from painting to sculpture and beyond; Leiber the younger finds himself in a conversation with his father about their family and lives together as well as the elder's afterlife, caught in part in each piece of the collection, as Senior's spirit is animating his various self-portraits to varying degrees.
|illustration by Emshwiller for Heinlein's Glory Road|
|illustration by Chesley Bonestell|
"The Winter Flies", originally published in F&SF as "The Inner Circles", October 1967, edited by Edward L. Ferman; can be read here.
And the third and final story portrays a version of Jonquil and Fritz, Jr.'s lives some years later, both less thoroughly chemically-dependent, perhaps in large part because they are the parents of an analog of a young (not yet adolescent) Justin. In this one, while the reveries of the Jonquil and Justin characters are touched upon, most of the interactions are between the Fritz analog, Gottfried Helmuth Adler (whom the real Leiber-the-author not too kindly nor self-appreciatively notes is often referred to as Gott) and characters which appear only to him to illuminate his insecurities, and what those make of his desires and current state, as they spar with him.
Leiber's wit and erudition, and his fondness for both the dramatic form and a few in-jokes, not so abstruse as to be lost on the non-constant reader of fantastica or other literature, are in evidence; Leiber's ability to write confessionally and with a kind of cheerful clarity about his own failings was greatly appreciated when I first read these stories, separately, over a couple of years' time, and remains so; the closest they've come to being gathered together (aside from here, as long as the archived copies remain available) is when two of them were included in the fine 1968 UK collection, The Secret Songs; and a different pair in a somewhat clumsy 199o, all but posthumous, retrospective, The Leiber Chronicles: Fifty Years of Fritz Leiber.