From New International, Vol.4 No.3, March 1938, pp.94-95.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
by William Carlos Williams
293 pp. Norfolk, Conn. New Directions. $2.50.
It may be premature to pass definite judgment on the content of Williams’ novel, since it seems to be the first installment of a larger work in progress. In execution it displays the sure and competent touch which we have come to expect from its author. Williams’ straightforward prose style, which has the exponents of semantics justifiably excited, is clean-cut, compact, free from complicating verbiage, adjusted to the rhythms of speech and economic expression rather than the stilted formalities of grammar. Dr. Williams’ training stands him in good stead: his practised doctor’s eye and sensitive poet’s ear are so well coordinated that with a few careful phrases he can catch the essence of a baby’s gesture, a cat’s movement, the drama of a childbirth.
Yet, despite its technical excellence, the book somehow misses fire. It may be that Dr. Williams has over-ambitiously tackled a job somewhat beyond his scope. He seems to be attempting another panorama of the American scene, in terms of the shifting fortunes of an aristocrat of labor and his family. But, to judge from this fragment of the work, Williams, unlike Farrell and Dos Passos, does not have the larger, all-encompassing view which enables an author to fit his daubs of color into a broad canvas. As a result the book is curiously disjointed; minor scenes and events receive undue emphasis, the continuity seems disrupted, the interjection of social content through the speeches and thoughts of the characters seems at times to be an artificial unifying device, extraneous to the immediate subject-matter. Of itself, the theme – the influence of the money-mad, power-driven American go-getting psychology on a one-time labor organizer and associate of Gompers, beginning to come into comfort and security – is an interesting one. But, however keen and incisive Dr. Williams’ prose may be, we may be permitted to wonder whether his abilities to peg clean words into exact holes will not be dissipated in ranging over a broad social scene, where technical competence is not enough. The published section of the work is not reassuring.
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