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The three speakers each knew a very different Heller.

Mr. Gottlieb first encountered him as a short-haired, carefully-dressed young businessman, anxious to make good as a writer. Mr. Nichols knew a much more fulfilled, although still troubled, man. As Mr. Gottlieb explained, no author so enjoyed success as Heller, who “blossomed” from the attention and took his time finishing the next novel, “Something Happened,” published 13 years later.

Mr. Buckley knew him in shrewd old age, a “kindly guy” with a “steel trap mind” and a “switchblade-like intelligence.” They were a “mutual despairing society” who tried to cheer each other up. Mr. Buckley remembered getting an unenthusiastic review in Publishers Weekly and faxing it to Heller, who crossed out the negative comments and faxed it back.

“Now it’s a total rave,” Heller wrote him.