frances Fitzgerald was speeding through Washington this week for a 24-hour spate of lectures, interviews and colloquia about her new book, "America Revised," a witty and provocative look at the history of history textbooks.
"I'm just relieved the book is done," the 38-year-old author said. "I hated writing it."
An unconventional remark, perhaps. But then "Frankie" ("My mother didn't like any of the other nicknames") was never one to be conventional.
She came from the moneyed Boston Brahmin Peabody family, was raised in Manhattan, educated at Radcliffe, and then left it all -- first for Paris after college in 1962 and later for Vietnam -- to be a writer.
"The notion of the Bohemian life sounded very romantic to me," she said of two years in Paris, smiling and lighting a cigarette. "I was going to write a novel. It never saw the light of day. Oh, I can't tell you what it was like . . ."
But undismayed, she went to Vietnam at 25 -- and came back to write "Fire in the Lake," which won her a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 and made her name among literary and political liberals.
Now she has a reputation and friends straight off the masthead of The New York Review of Books.
"Oh, sure," she said, nodding vigorously, a bit nervously, tucking her long, straight, blond hair behind an ear yet another time. "I have everything."
But she has it without the nonchalant self-confidence one would expect.
"I would love to think of myself as an intellectual," she said, laughing. "But I would never have the arrogance to call myself that."
"America Revised" traces the textbooks from the rabidly opiniated but energetically written volumes of the 19th century to the more recent composites of inoffensive public opinions.
"It was a way of going at the American idea of self," said Fitzgerald. the history textbooks were a good medium for finding out what was on people's minds."
Currently on her mind is a film script she's writing for the novel "Mortal Friends" by James Carroll. The MGM movie will be directed by her companion, William Friedkin. They met when he called her about doing another movie script, a project that never materialized.
And after that, "I would like to do about everything," she said. "There are a million places I would still like to go. I want to go to India -- for a long period. China. Japan. Latin America . . . ."
"Everything I've done is surprising to me," she said. "I've never had a strategy. It just happened."
"America Revised" is dedicated to her octogenarian grandmother, Mary Parkman Peabody. "She's a terrific link with history," Fitzgerald said.
Of course, as with any writer, the novel is still the Mount Everest to be climbed. "I hope to write a novel one of these days," she said. "But the idea terrifies me."