William Herrick is an unstoppable truth-teller, just as brave in his older years as when he enlisted for the war against Franco. He is our American Orwell.

Paul Berman

William Herrick

William Herrick was born on January 10, 1915 in Trenton, New Jersey. As a young man he worked on an anarchist farm, lived in a commune in Michigan, hoboed around the country, and was very nearly tarred and feathered while organizing Black sharecroppers in the South. Returning to the North, he worked for the Furriers’ Union in New York City and then traveled to Spain, where, as a member of the International Brigades, he fought for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War until he was wounded on the Madrid Front. Returning to New York, Herrick was employed for many years as a court reporter, only taking time off to work for Orson Welles for a short spell. He died in 2004.

cover image of the book Bradovich


Hailed by Publishers Weekly as “an A-1 satire on urban living,” William Herrick’s Bradovich is now available as a New Directions paperbook. Stephen Bradovich––sculptor, widower, former pro ball player, sometime brawler. Why would this complexly human, anarchist protagonist receive a visit from two impassive, square-shouldered operatives with the alarmling news: “You are under surveillance pending review, that’s the message The Authority sends you”? Praised for the compassion, humanism, and “truth-seeking” of his earlier novels, Herrick in Bradovich steps beyond the “lean and muscular prose” of his terrorist trilogy (Shadows & Wolves, Love & Terror, Kill Memory) and beyond the working-class realism that won The Present Tense/Joel H. Cavior Award for That’s Life (in 1985) to a surreal––if still recognizable––New York where suddenly not only the improbable but the impossible can happen.

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cover image of the book That’s Life

That’s Life

In That’s Life, William Herrick’s view of humanity is unsparing yet compassionate. He sees life as commitment––to ideals, friends, family––but no one, least of all Herrick, said it was going to be easy. His portraits of the members of a distinctly American family––a novella, five short stories, and a group of five letters––comprise not quite a novel but more than a collection of stories. “I think of it as a co-operative structure,” the author says, “in which each character owns and occupies his or her own place, yet it is the entire family which operates the building. To simplify matters, I call the book a fiction.” And so we learn the past and present of each of the Millers: Max and Rebecca, Rebecca’s mother Ruth (in an old folks’ home), and the three Miller children––Eli, an obsessive artist, Peter, an amateur student of life as he bums rides across the country, and teen-ager Nina, a not-so-innocent working-class child away at prep school on a scholarship. But we learn about them in counterpoint and mosaic as Herrick turns our attention, and our allegiance, first to one member of the family and then another. There are few books where human weaknesses are so fully displayed and yet where human endurance and capacity for joy are so palpably present.

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cover image of the book Kill Memory

Kill Memory

In William Herrick’s Kill Memory, erasing the past is just what seventy-one-year-old Elizabeth cannot do. A woman who has had many lovers, a ruthless revolutionary, a courageous underground courier during World War II, and now a disengaged exile waiting out a solitary existence in Paris, Boishke (as Elizabeth has always been called) gives her primary attention to the rituals of living––eating, dressing, walking, realistically facing up to old age, trying to sleep––and to her memories. Kill Memory takes place in Boishke��s own mind during one twenty-four-hour period––a day that encompasses a lifetime, a lifetime of total commitment and omitted kindness. Throughout her interior debate, Boishke’s unseen interlocutor is an idealistic young American with whom she had a love affair forty-five years earlier––a mocking presence the practical, sometimes arrogant, Boishke cannot silence. Not an “action” novel in the usual sense, Kill Memory is rather an evocative meditation on what it is like to grow old, to be old, as well as a tragic love story and suspenseful narrative of actions remembered––and reconsidered––at the end of life. Together with his two previous New Directions novels (Shadows and Wolves, 1980, and Love and Terror, 1981), Herrick’s Kill Memory completes a thematic trilogy exploring the impact totalitarian (and terrorist) ideologies of both right and left have on those caught up in them, the price they––and we––continue to pay for indulging fanaticism, the necessity for individual penance, and the possibility of very human kinds of redemption.

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cover image of the book Love and Terror

Love and Terror

Now available as a New Directions paperbook, Love and Terror, William Herrick’s second novel with ND, both reflects and anticipates today’s headlines. Terrorist kidnappings, hijackings, and dramatic rescues all form a part of the plot, but Herrick’s interest lies less in tension-filled heroics than in the human cost of flawed idealism. Through the notebook of the principal terrorist, Viktor X, the complex characters of Viktor and Gabriele, for whom love and terrorism are intertwined and inseparable, are revealed. And in a series of interviews with a nameless reporter, the lives of three disillusioned revolutionaries––“the old ones,” now hostages to a new brand of revolution––gradually and movingly unfold. In his earlier Shadows and Wolves (New Directions, 1980), Herrick showed us the possibility of human solutions that transcend politics. In Love and Terror he shows us why any ideology, inflexibly adhered to, makes such solutions necessary.

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cover image of the book Shadows And Wolves

Shadows And Wolves

Starting from two poignant and prophetic lines by the martyred Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, “Look at his spent body / blackened with shadows and wolves,” William Herrick’s novel evokes a contemporary Spain where the fraternal clash of loyalists and fascists has given way to the conflict between conservatives and revolutionaries––fathers and sons. In portraits of the punctilious General Luis Alfara Fernandez, who never questioned the wishes of his General, and his terrorist son Rodolfo, who always questioned his father’s arbitrary authority, Herrick’s narrative is as stark and mercilessly lighted as the Andalucian landscape.

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William Herrick is an unstoppable truth-teller, just as brave in his older years as when he enlisted for the war against Franco. He is our American Orwell.

Paul Berman

His concerns here as elsewhere are the classic ones of honor, virtue, courage, pity, passion. His means are always responsible and often eloquent. Yet I confess that what I like most about his work is that its natural voice seems to be that of a mensch. I don’t know of a more unusual distinction in or out of books.

Thomas Berger, New Leader

Herrick’s anatomy of a young German terrorist, written with dispassionate intelligence and documentary density, offers not a flutter of the pulse but a chill in the bone.

New York Times Book Review
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