New American Fiction

Roar Lion Roar

by Irving Faust
Random House, 213 pp., $3.95

The Edge of the Woods

by Heather Ross Miller
Atheneum, 113 pp., $3.50

A House on the Sound

by Kathrin Perutz
Coward, McCann, 213 pp., $3.95

P. S. Wilkinson

by C.D.B. Bryan
Harper & Row, 441 pp., $5.95

Yarborough

by B.H. Friedman
World, 373 pp., $5.95

These six books, all of them by young writers, are in their way characteristic of the current crop of fiction—not a bumper crop, to be sure, but not so bad at that after all. We have become rather accustomed of late to critical laments prophesying the novel’s imminent demise. But these dire pronouncements, usually made by critics with frustrated creative aspirations of their own, are scarcely to be taken seriously. Pornographic forays aside, contemporary American fiction, though patently fallen below the level of the period of “experiment and liberation” that ended in the early 1930s, is no worse off today, it seems to me, than it was ten or twenty years ago. The wanton and popular form of the novel provides writers with a freedom of movement unexcelled in any other literary genre; and a form in which inner and outer experience merge with ease, accommodating the subtlest psychological analysis along with the most factual sort of story-telling, is not so quickly downed as bearish critics profess to believe. It is, basically, the dominant verbal medium of the modern world. In recent decades the classic avant garde’s pre-occupation with language and technique has shown no signs of revival. Experimentation now is all with the absorption of new materials and with the devising of personal attitudes, which, as is to be expected, has led to a good deal of mere attitudinizing. Moreover, the moving force of ideology (exemplified in a work such as Dos Passos’s U.S.A.), sometimes acting like an incubus and sometimes like an inspiration, hardly exists at present. Nevertheless we do have a number of quite interesting and lively talents, far more interesting, to my mind, than the new French or German or British lot. Even if no new Faulkners (or even Dreisers for that matter) loom on the horizon, fiction is still very much a going concern. Thus two of these six works under review are rather better than just promising; three, if not good, are at least readable; only one—Richard Brautigan’s beat-story A Confederate General from Big Sur—strikes me as very crude indeed. In it the beatnik tendency to disorganization of form and inconsequence of content reaches a new low.

Roar Lion Roar, a collection of stories by Irving Faust, is one of the volumes I want to speak well of. It is Mr. Faust’s first book, in which he displays an unusual ear for the vernacular, wonderful economy of phrasing, and an understanding of marginal lowlife New York types rare among our many urban story-tellers. Mr. Faust’s people are cast as types well below the level of alienation, which, for all the anxieties it induces, might make them feel far more alive and at least conscious of their plight than their frantic efforts to belong to their society by conforming, in the most literal possible manner, to its shoddiest dreams and images. Thus in “Philco Baby” the shipping clerk Morty is virtually married to his …

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