The first, glowing reviews of David Michaelis's biography of cartoonist Charles Schulz are in. And suddenly the well-publicized "bombshell" that he had a fling with a younger woman at the end of his first marriage doesn't seem so important. Nor, for that matter, does the outspoken disappointment of Schulz's children in Michaelis's portrayal of their father.
It would seem, after reading what reviewers say in Friday's New York Times and Wall Street Journal and today's New York Times Book Review, that Sparky Schulz, Sonoma County's favorite son, belongs not to us, but to the ages. And the disapproval of friends and family, who would have preferred less analysis and more about his generosity, his humor, his kindness, doesn't really matter to the rest of the comic-loving, biography-reading world.
It's clear that Michaelis's 655-page "Schulz and Peanuts," which will be released for sale Tuesday, is not a book about a hometown hero. It's the life story of a national icon.
Schulz's widow, Jeannie Schulz, knows this. And she wasn't surprised, she said, by the positive reviews. But she feels that "it could have been an even greater book" if the negative aspects of his life had been more balanced.
Jeannie, who married Sparky in 1973, talked about the book Friday in the Warm Puppy, where she first met Schulz. "The man I knew loved to laugh and exercised his creativity in all sort of ways," she said. "He had a great curiosity and interest in things."
That man, she said, isn't in the book "and that was part of the magic of his genius."
"Almost schizophrenic" is the term Jeannie chooses to describe Michaelis's work. "There are wonderful, lyrical parts where David talks about Sparky, about how he draws the strip and how his genius comes out, which is what everybody wants to get at," she said.
"In the end, of course, creativity is a mystery. But there are other parts where David seems heavy-handed and makes judgments he has no basis to make," she said.
Michaelis, in a telephone conversation Friday, said: "Balance is not a goal for the biographer. Biography is an imperfect implement for personal remembrance. I wanted to present three things: Schulz the man, Schulz the artist and Schulz the creator of 'Peanuts.' Writing it for the family would have been a great disservice to Charles Schulz.
"I am looking forward to the memoir, to the next Schulz book. There is way too much in the life of this man for one biographer."
SOME of Schulz's friends who were interviewed by Michaelis (and full disclosure demands that I tell you I am one of them) expressed surprise last week when a New York Times story revealed the family's anger at a portrayal of Schulz as a bitter man, a cold and distant father who had an affair in 1970, when his first marriage was falling apart.
Cliff Silva, the 75-year-old groundskeeper at the ice arena, started working for the family 40 years ago when Sparky and his first wife, Joyce, and their five children were living at Coffee Grounds in Sebastopol. "I probably know more than the book," Silva said, laughing. But he admits that the news of Schulz's extramarital affair surprised him. "I would have thought it would have been the other way around," he said, "women chasing Sparky instead of Sparky chasing women. God, with all he had going for him, you'd think he wouldn't be able to hang the phone up."