The narrative dealt with a protagonist who, while attempting to commit suicide by swimming out into the ocean, has a chance encounter with a glowing alien space craft sinking in the water below him. The protagonist ends up rescuing the alien from certain death. In a show of gratitude the alien - who ends up being a smart-talking prepubescent boy possessing magical, genie-like powers - grants the protagonist three wishes . . .
I didn't know what to make of the reading. Though I found the prose and storytelling palatable, I was repulsed by the premise of what I had heard. Simply put, I found the story a bit silly.
Following the reading, my friend and I took the opportunity to meet the author in person. In her generosity, my friend gave me her copy of An Innocent Millionaire for Vizinczey to dedicate to me personally with an autograph. Meeting an author whose work you have never read is somewhat of a strange experience. Asking the same author to autograph a novel you hadn't even heard of before is downright surreal.
In an effort to avoid speaking about his writing, I asked Vizinczey if he visited Hungary often. To further distance myself from my general ignorance of the man's work, I made sure to ask the question in Hungarian. At the sound of the Magyar language, Vizinczey's dark, brooding eyes softened somewhat. He informed me he occasionally "went home" to visit his mother, but that visiting the country of his birth had become filled with the same sense of awkwardness one would feel upon visiting the home of an ex-girlfriend. He graciously wrote a dedication in the novel in Hungarian: "To Ferenc, With Friendship, Vizinczey István.
I read An Innocent Millionaire immediately afterward and found it to be one of the best novels I had ever read. Modeled upon the greatest classics of the nineteenth century, the novel provides moving and masterful insights into what I at the time termed "the human condition", all within the framework of a well-paced adventure story. Intrigued by Vizinczey, I quickly took up his first novel, In Praise of Older Women, an erotic novel that unconventionally aligned with the dominating milieu of the 1960s sexual revolution.
In Praise made Vizinczey a literary star - and a millionaire to boot. It was only later that I understood that his second novel, An Innocent Millionaire, was a thinly-veiled analogy of his own experience at striking it rich via his creativity only to have the cold, calculating world ruthlessly attempt to "steal" his achievement from him under the banner of civilized society.
I was a waning Christian when I encountered Vizinczey and his work. As such, I found his staunch defense and praise of secular, humanist values and his merciless criticism of human wickedness and stupidity both uplifting and enticing. Lauding writers such as Stendhal and Voltaire, Vizinczey was very much of the belief that religion, Christianity especially, was essentially nonsense. For example, he loved Dosteovsky, but had no use for Dosteovsky's Christian metaphysics. For Vizinczey, religion was at best a delusion; at worst, a tyrannical means of social control that hindered free thought and individual expression.
He was not entirely wrong in this, but unbeknownst to Vizinczey - and to me at the time - a complete rejection of the spiritual and the embrace of material atheism also serve to hinder free thought and individual expression. This hindrance becomes readily apparent in Vizinczey's little philosophy book, The Rules of Chaos, which, for all of its sharp insights, lacks the kind of solid metaphysical assumptions that would make the insights truly profound.
After reading Vizinczey's two novels, I eagerly awaited the publication of his third. I waited. And waited. And then I waited some more. Finally, in 2014 - more than twenty years after I had listened to Vizinczey read from his "work in progress" - I came across an announcement on his website. After more than twenty years of writing, rewriting, and perfecting, Vizinczey was ready to publish his "work in progress" under the title Three Wishes. I immediately announced the news on this blog. To my surprise, Vizinczey left a comment on my post.
Shortly afterward, we began to correspond intermittently. It took another two years for his "work in progress" to finally appear. He graciously sent me an advanced copy - the title of which had inexplicably changed from Three Wishes to If Only - and asked me to report any typos or errors I encountered.
Vizinczey was convinced his latest work was "perfect, his best yet", but reading If Only not only proved to be a major disappointment, but somewhat of an embarrassment. Nearly thirty years in the making, Vizinczey's novel about the kid alien granting three wishes proved to be downright putrid. Once I had finished the novel, Vizinczey eagerly asked me what I thought about it.
Out of respect for the man's past work, I chose to be dishonest. I told him I thought the novel was great. The decision provided me with an intensely painful learning experience. I regretted and repented my dishonesty immediately and made a vow to never again be so utterly insincere, even at the cost of sparing someone's feelings.
To my surprise, Vizinczey later informed me that he had purchased and read my novel. When I asked him for his opinion, he unsurprisingly informed me that he thought it had some potential, but that it was overwritten. I immediately understood that he had hated it. I wasn't particularly bothered by that - I know my own work is quite flawed. What bothered me was the "noble" lie I had uttered concerning his own work. I pondered being forthright with him, but resisted under the assumption that he would interpret my confession as little more than resentment.
If Only, which Vizinczey self-published hoping lightning would strike again as it had decades before with In Praise, proved to be spectacular flop. It sold poorly and was panned by the few critics that did take the time to review it. A couple of years later, Vizinczey himself unceremoniously declared that he himself hated the novel and had decided to re-write it once again (!) and republish it as 3 Wishes.
So much for perfect.
Anyway, my purpose here is not to denigrate or disparage Vizinczey or his work. Despite the failure of his self-proclaimed, final masterpiece, he was and remains a good writer. Nevertheless, for me, he was and remains a good leftist writer. And that makes all the difference in the world to me now. The Stephen Vizinczey I admired when I was more inclined to and accepting of leftism is a very different writer from the Stephen Vizinczey I came to know when I rejected leftism and dedicated myself wholeheartedly to Christ.
Vizinczey was a highly intelligent man possessed by an enormous ego and an incredibly eventful life - one that saw him experience the horrors of the Second World War, the monstrosities of communism, the pain of exile, the tumult of moving around the globe, the joy and challenges of literary success, the frustrating decline of modern culture and civilization, the warmth and love of a solid, lifelong marriage, and the gradual decline into relative obscurity. Despite this extraordinary set of events and experiences, Vizinczey's learning in life could not move beyond the scope of his limited metaphysical assumptions; limited metaphysical assumptions that become acutely glaring in declarations like the ones below, made a mere year before his death:
Though he touted himself as a renegade and a politically incorrect thinker, he was surprisingly and solidly political correct in his beliefs. His pronouncements often approvingly echoed litmus test agenda items such as racism and climate change. As is to be expected, Vizinczey had nothing to say about the 2020 global totalitarian coup. Though he was insistently dismayed by the general social and cultural decay he witnessed all around him, Vizinczey remained firmly convinced that the world was actually improving, as he confirmed in a recent blog post : "As I often said I am not so much of a writer, but a re-writer and I was writing and revising this novel for 17 years. Reading it over last time, I was amazed how much the world has changed during these 17 years, we are at a better place than we were all those years ago. So part of the book is already past history."
I sincerely hope Vizinczey is in a better place now - that he saw the light, that he made the right choice - the same choice he simply could not accept during mortal life.
Whatever the case, I am grateful for his work. Despite its obvious leftism, much of it remains quite good from a purely literary perspective. It provided joy and taught me much, albeit probably not in the manner Vizinczey originally intended when he wrote it.
Note added: An obituary for Vizinczey can be found here.