Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The Big Clock is a psychological suspense novel that achieves its effect primarily through irony. The major character, George Stroud, is assigned the task of finding a missing person, a phantom witness both he and the reader know is actually George Stroud himself. As the novel builds, his position becomes ever more precarious, and the suspense is enhanced by the seeming inevitability of his being found out. He is racing, literally, against the clock, because time is playing with his life, and the suspense of the net closing around him keeps the narrative alive.
The story begins when Stroud meets Pauline Delos, the girlfriend of his employer, at one of Janoth’s fabled big parties. Events coincide, and he has an affair with the woman. As he is dropping her off at her apartment on their return from a weekend together, Stroud sees Janoth meet her at the door of the building. In turn, Janoth sees only the shadowy image of a man. Up in her apartment, Janoth asks her about the man with whom she has been and accuses her of harboring lesbian tendencies. Janoth becomes so enraged when she implies he has a similar relationship with Steve Hagen that he strikes her. The next day, Stroud discovers that Delos has been murdered. Immediately, Janoth’s second in command, Steve Hagen, has Stroud set up an investigation to find the man his boss had glimpsed on the street. Hagen spins a tale of a business conspiracy in which the man is involved, but Stroud knows that Janoth intends to pin the murder on him in order to deflect suspicion from himself.
Stroud’s team of investigators follow up details of the weekend that Delos had told to Janoth before she died, details that will surely bring the investigators straight to Stroud. The searchers know the pair had visited Gil’s Bar and Grill, a...
(The entire section is 740 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Anderson, Andrew R. Fear Ruled Them All: Kenneth Fearing’s Literature of Corporate Conspiracy. New York: Peter Lang, 1996. An overview of Fearing’s commentaries on corporate culture.
Barnard, Rita. The Great Depression and the Culture of Abundance: Kenneth Fearing, Nathanael West, and Mass Culture in the 1930’s. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Discusses Fearing’s response as a leftist writer to mass culture and consumerism.
Evans, T. Jeff. “Narratology in Kenneth Fearing’s The Big Clock.” Journal of Narrative Technique 23, no. 3 (Fall, 1993). Explores the novel’s narrative strategies, including the use of multiple viewpoints.
Kunitz, Stanley. “More than a Thriller: The Big Clock” Armchair Detective 16, no. 4 (Winter, 1983). Examines the novel in terms of the conventions of the mystery genre.
Kunitz, Stanley. “Private Eye.” Saturday Review XC (June 29, 1957). An interesting contemporary look at Fearing’s work.