Books: Death of the Optimist

DARK AS THE GRAVE WHEREIN MY FRIEND IS LAID by Malcolm Lowry. 255 pages. New American Library. $5.95.

Malcolm Lowry suffered the agonies of a man who combined Proustian ambitions with a writer's block. He conceived of an organic body of work to be called The Voyage That Never Ends, at the heart of which would rest his one masterpiece, Under the Volcano (1947). That novel—perhaps the only story of an alcoholic ever to succeed at the level of tragedy rather than self-pity —revealed in Lowry a dark, obsessive genius that kept struggling for...