Garrett, George (Palmer)
George (Palmer) Garrett 1929-
American short story writer, poet, novelist, critic, and editor.
A prolific author of short fiction, novels, poetry, and literary criticism, Garrett has been lauded both for the diversity of his works and for the breadth of his literary talent. Although most of the critical attention he has received has been focused upon his novels, which include Death, of the Fox (1971), Garrett's short stories and novellas have been hailed by critics for their masterfully written and dynamic narratives, as well as for their insightful social commentary. Garrett's short stories have appeared in numerous periodicals and have been collected in several volumes, including King of the Mountain (1958), Cold Ground Was My Bed Last Night (1964), and An Evening Performance: New and Selected Short Stories (1985).
Garrett was born in Orlando, Florida, on June 11, 1929, one of four children of George Palmer and Rosalie Toomer Garrett. Garrett's father was an idealistic and widely-respected attorney who fought such intimidating entities as the Ku Klux Klan and large railroad companies. His maternal grandfather, Colonel William Morrison Toomer, was a capricious Southern aristocrat given to ostentation and wild spending sprees. Two of Garrett's siblings, both sisters, survived, but Garrett's older brother died at birth, and according to Garrett remained what he called "a haunting presence" in his life; Garrett has questioned whether his deceased brother's "presence" has motivated his preoccupation with duality in his fiction. Garrett was reared as an Episcopalian, and his religious beliefs have informed many of his works.In 1946 Garrett graduated from the Sewanee Military Academy and in 1947 he graduated from the Hill School; he went on to earn a bachelor's degree in English at Princeton University in 1952. Also in 1952, Garrett married Susan Parrish Jackson, with whom he had two sons and a daughter. Following his graduation from Princeton, Garrett served for two years in the Free Territory of Trieste and in Linz, Austria, as a member of the United States Army Active Reserves. Garrett earned a master's degree in English at Princeton in 1956, and although he began his doctorate studies in the late 1950s, he did not complete his doctorate in English at Princeton until 1985. While continuing his writing career, Garrett has served as an educator at a number of colleges and universities since 1957, including Wesleyan University, Rice University, Hollins College, the University of South Carolina, and the University of Virginia.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Garrett's short stories vary tremendously in terms of plot, characters, and settings, but in general concern a changing contemporary society in which an established social and personal order is giving way to uncertainty and confusion. As W. R. Robinson commented, Garrett's short stories are marked by an "energy . . . in the rush of action and fury of emotion, impelled by passion and culminating in violence, which characterize his narrative technique, and in experiments with point of view, tense, character types, and plots—resulting from Garrett's persistent quest to tell the true story about change." In his first collection of short fiction, 1958's King of the Mountain, the final five stories, which are grouped under the title "What's the Purpose of the Bayonet?", are semi-autobiographical and reflect Garrett's army experience. Treating the themes of morality and order versus disorder as manifested in the military arena, the "Bayonet" stories are recounted by anonymous narrators who undergo an assortment of harrowing experiences and learn about the pain and brutality that underlie everyday human life. In the last story, "Torment," the narrator witnesses the savage beating of a group of prostitutes by police in Linz and concludes: "The things God has to see because He cannot shut his eyes! It's almost too much to think about. It's enough to turn your stomach against the whole inhuman race." The other stories in this first collection present a variety of themes and viewpoints, including "The Rivals," which details a father-son relationship, and a group of stories titled "Four Women" that present realistic narratives from the perspective of women characters.
The stories in In the Briar Patch, Garrett's 1961 collection, which includes such titles as "The Gun and the Hat," "Thus the Early Gods," and "The Last of the Spanish Blood," are all set in the South, which is presented as a symbol of a defeated empire in which kindness and compassion are requisite qualities for survival. In the title story, a young boy observes the predicament of a black soldier named Leroy, who after being revealed as a deserter, uses the same strategy employed by folktale character Br'er Rabbit to avoid the "briar patch," that is to avoid being sent back to live in the poverty he escaped by joining the military. Cold Ground Was My Bed Last Night contains a novella of the same title and nine short stories, including "The Old Army Game," which treats corruption in the military. Published in Great Britain in 1969, A Wreath for Garibaldi and Other Stories collected some of the stories that had previously appeared in Cold Ground Was My Bed Last Night, including the title novella from that volume, which was also featured, under a new title "Noise of Strangers," in Garrett's next volume of short fiction, The Magic Striptease (1973). The Magic Striptease also included two other novellas, The Satyr Shall Cry and an eponymous novella that relates a humorous tale revolving around the main character Jacob Quirk, who possesses the ability to change into other people as well as into inanimate objects.
In his 1985 collection, An Evening Performance: New and Selected Short Stories, Garrett included "A Record as Long as Your Arm," which, as William Peden termed it, "begins as apparently another romp in a cuckold's bedroom [and] ends in a maggoty, blood-spattered, vomit-stained basement." Garrett followed An Evening Performance with 1992's Whistling in the Dark: True Stories and Other Fables, a volume that includes autobiographical and fictional elements, which, Garrett asserted, "turned out to be about my memories and how other people's memories blend into your own. . . . Memories distort and change with time, so it also has to do with the different ways we remember things." The book contains widely varying stories, fables, memories, excerpts from lectures, and poetry, in which Garrett comments upon the creative process, as well as on the human condition.
Garrett has been highly praised by critics for his works in all genres, but his novels have received the most notice. Nevertheless, Garrett's short fiction has been critically acclaimed since the time he began publishing it; in a review of his first collection, King of the Mountain, Paul Engle commented: "Garrett is exactly the sort of writer getting his start who deserves wide support, just the kind who will enrich the life of the country with his writing." Commentators have responded favorably to the insight and intelligence displayed in Garrett's short stories and novellas, and have applauded his economy with words, as well as his ability to depict characters and situations with clarity, accuracy, and compassion. Although most critics agree that Garrett's brand of short fiction is unique and not closely related to the style of any particular American writer, he has been characterized as a Southern writer and has been compared—in terms of the effectiveness and quality of his writing rather than for its style or subject matter—to such writers as Flannery O'Connor and Ernest Hemingway. Noel Perrin asserted that Garrett's writing "has a cleanness, a clarity, an utter thereness, that I have encountered only a few times in my life. One of those times was when I first read Hemingway; another came with Willa Cather. If you think I mean to compliment George Garrett by putting him in such company, you are right. . . . [H]e is in their league." Garrett has received numerous accolades for his works, including the T. S. Eliot Award for creative writing, which he received in 1989, and the PEN/Malamud Award for short fiction, with which he was honored in 1991. In addition to these two prizes Garrett has received several fellowships, grants, and literary awards.
King of the Mountain 1958
In the Briar Patch 1961
Cold Ground Was My Bed Last Night 1964
A Wreath for Garibaldi and Other Stories 1969
The Magic Striptease 1973
To Recollect a Cloud of Ghosts: Christmas in England 1979
An Evening Performance: New and Selected Short Stories 1985
Other Major Works
The Reverend Ghost (poetry) 1957
The Sleeping Gypsy and Other Poems (poetry) 1958
The Finished Man (novel) 1960
Abraham's Knife and Other Poems (poetry) 1961
Which Ones Are the Enemy? (novel) 1961
Garden Spot, U.S.A. (drama) 1962
Sir Slob and the Princess: A Play for Children (drama) 1962
The Young Lovers (screenplay) 1964
Do, Lord, Remember Me (novel) 1965
The Playground (screenplay) 1965
Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster [with R. H. W. Dillard and John Rodenbeck] (screenplay) 1966
For a Bitter Season: New and Selected Poems (poetry) 1967
Death of the Fox (novel) 1971
The Sounder Few: Essays from "The...
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SOURCE: A review of King of the Mountain, in Western Humanities Review, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1958, p. 193.
[In the following review, Eble provides a mixed evaluation of King of the Mountain.]
"I shall never finish a symphony," Brahms wrote. "You have no idea how it feels to hear behind you the tramp of a giant like Beethoven." Such a candid admission applies to all artists whose creativity is shaped not only by their own hands but by the hands of one or more of their predecessors. For American short story writers, the tramp of the giant has likely as not been that of Ernest Hemingway. Since Hemingway, one might say, it has been impossible for a young writer to work within a range of style and subject matter which has been too clearly marked by the hand of the master. In Mr. Garrett's first story in this collection, "The Rivals," a boy and his father square off in a manner as sharply defined as the way the bull-fighter faces the bull. In the stories about men and women the men are insensitive and sleep with other women; the women say "You bastard," and frequently cry; both are baffled by sexual relationships and lace their conversation with "I don't know," or "You just don't know." The over-all impression one receives from this collection is that here is a writer of undeniable talent who has not yet found his own voice.
Unlike some first collections of short stories, this collection...
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SOURCE: "With a Whimper and a Bang," in The New York Times Book Review, March 2, 1958, p. 4.
[In the following review, Stern offers a highly favorable assessment of King of the Mountain.]
This first book by George Garrett begins in innocence, with a boy's whimper, and ends in evil, with a bang. Long before the bang comes you will know that the author is out of the top of the literary drawer.
Mr. Garrett is aware, as was the young Hemingway, of the attraction of the first person singular and the second plural ("Ask me why I pick that time and I'll tell you"), of the sense of immediacy and intimacy the confidential technique can produce, of the power it has, like the sudden use of Christian names, to engage your full attention. But Mr. Garrett is no mere charmer. In some twenty stories he says more, and more forcefully, than is commonly said in as many full-length novels. Every page of King of the Mountain rings true, and the author has some profound and terrible tales to tell.
The subjects of the stories can be roughly divided between father-son relationships and war, or rather the effects of war upon its survivors. Some stories are likely to make the middle-aged feel old. "Our generation," says the narrator of "The Seacoast of Bohemia," which is Greenwich Village, "had come to life after the war." For Mr. Garrett, who comes from Florida, there have been...
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SOURCE: "Is Fiction Human?", in The Hudson Review, Vol. XI, No. 2, Summer, 1958, pp. 294-301.
[In the following excerpt, Mudrick provides a mixed review of King of the Mountain, reserving his praise only for the story "What's the Purpose of the Bayonet?".]
George Garrett is another writer who has read his homework in Mademoiselle, Harper's Bazaar, and The New Yorker. "They were sitting in a little trattoria beside the Arno," he says abruptly [in a story in King of the Mountain]', and the befuddled reader, not yet informed that the latest American Bohemia is the land of the Caesars, may be excused for wondering what a trattoria is—restaurant? restroom?—and whether the Arno is a cartoon or a celebrated Spanish dancer. S. J. Perelman makes his living (in The New Yorker!) by disposing of this sort of writing for all time: "The Patagonian demi-vierges were shaking their little iabots. . . ." In the trattoria story, the weak husband and the wise disillusioned wife move finally into a scene that Mr. Garrett has vulgarly parodied, at least in unconscious anticipation, straight out of La Strada with its chain-breaking strong man:
While his companion passed the hat, the strong man sat in the street and looked at his legs, smiling a little. She turned away and looked at Harry. Poor Harry...
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SOURCE: A review of King of the Mountain, in Saturday Review, Vol. 41, No. 24, June 14, 1958, p. 38.
[In the following review, Stegner responds positively to King of the Mountain.]
Counting as separates the twelve vignettes which are grouped under the titles "Four Women," "Comic Strip," and "What's the Purpose of the Bayonet?" there are twenty stories in George Garrett's first collection, King of the Mountain. They are enough to mark him as more than a writer of promise. In seriousness, intelligence, economy, in their knack for people and places and their ear for talk, above all in the illusion of reality upon which, Henry James said, all the other values of fiction helplessly depend, these are stories to compel respect.
Born in Florida, educated at Princeton, tested by the Army of Occupation in Europe, and now teaching at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., Mr. Garrett reflects in his stories most of his experience except the pedagogical. His themes here are the uneasy relationships between fathers and sons, the muffled struggle between aspiration and resignation in the young, the brutality and soullessness of army life, and the frustrated sexuality of women.
I find him least persuasive on women. However, there is an admirable objectivity in Mr. Garrett's handling of his themes, even when he assumes the first personal singular. Sometimes he...
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SOURCE: A review of In the Briar Patch, in The Sewanee Review, Vol. LXXI, No. 1, January-March, 1963, pp. 115-22.
[In the following excerpt, Bryant offers a highly favorable review of In the Briar Patch.]
George Garrett, a young writer whose publications in verse and fiction should leave no doubt about the high quality of his gift, seems to share O'Connor's attitude toward the short story. The rough spots that characterize even the best of the stories in this collection testify to his ability to let a story discover itself; for if Garrett's stories are sometimes not quite finished, they are also never finished off. The title story, "In the Briar Patch," wanders somewhere along the road that stretches between Br'er Rabbit's "Please, Br'er Fox, don't throw me in de briar patch" and Hamlet's "rather bear those ills we have / Than fly to others that we know not of." It takes shape in the consciousness of a small boy, whose naïveté has preserved for him the independence of his elders' self-made mantraps and who can thus appreciate both the principle that Br'er Rabbit acts upon in the tar-baby tale and something of Hamlet's apprehensiveness about trying his luck in a strange world. This enables him to understand the plight of a young Negro soldier named Leroy whom his father has caught intimidating the household maid and turned over to the police. Leroy, it turns out, has been using the device of A....
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SOURCE: "The Two Faces of Matt Donelson," in The Sewanee Review, Vol. LXXIII, No. 1, Winter, 1965, pp. 106-19.
[In the following excerpt, Hanzo examines Garrett's treatment of the human condition in Cold Ground Was My Bed Last Night]
George Garrett's stories exhibit [a] kind of concern for the moral predicament, though not for the difficulties or impossibilities inherent in the acceptance of ethical norms. Garrett tells the story in "The Old Army Game" of the tough First Sergeant who is in all of us. Sergeant Quince, who teaches Sachs the stupid game, is the old Nick himself. We go on to the Professor in "My Picture Left in Scotland." He envies the talent of the bright young Jewish student, lusts after the nubile, stupid young thing, and then returns to his house, the slave of an intellectual, slothful woman. The moral ruin is everywhere, from the violence of "Texarkana Was a Crazy Town" to the debased language of Madison Avenue in "Man without a Fig Leaf." Fergus McCree, the modern poet, sums it up in this latter story: "Everything is all wrong." One consequence is that no one may be himself; the anguish would be too visible, as the victim in "The Wounded Soldier" finds out. Or as does the wife of the academic returning from sabbatical in "More Geese than Swans." Mary discovers that Sam Browne, the bachelor gossip who tells the tale of an awkward and trivial love affair, is merely a vicious man....
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SOURCE: "Interview: George Garrett," in South Carolina Review, Vol. 6, No. 1, November, 1973, pp. 43-8.
[In the following excerpt, Garrett discusses various aspects of his writing in general and his literary career in particular.]
[Israel]: What do you think are the major problems faced by the beginning writer in our time?
[Garrett]: I'll dodge that one a little. All serious writers, with a few exceptions, are in the same boat. Each book is a beginning. Look at this. Wright Morris and Philip Roth, for example, are in the position of starting a new thing every time. The mechanics of the literary marketplace are such that a Wright Morris, who is probably our greatest living producing novelist, has done in effect a series of first novels. So all serious writers are beginners. Robert Penn Warren is an exception. And the problem is that it is sometimes more difficult for the old-timer beginner than for the first-shot-out beginner. The first shot out is on a clean slate. You don't have a track record.
But, here we go, here are two of the biggest problems facing beginning writers. First, it is extremely difficult now under any circumstances—much more difficult than ten years ago—to get published. There are large numbers of very good manuscripts bouncing around the United States, and if you're optimistic, you'll believe that those good manuscripts will find a...
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SOURCE: A review of The Magic Striptease, in Saturday Review/World, Vol. 1, No. 9, January 12, 1974, p. 52.
[In the following review, Heath offers a laudatory assessment of The Magic Striptease.]
George Garrett's latest work [The Magic Striptease], a tidy fictional threesome, shows him to be a refreshing and casual yarn spinner of no little imagination. Distinctive in matter and manner, ranging in mood from comic to grim, these vignettes might have been written by different authors, except for the constants of Garrett's realistic, imaginative dialogue and dazzling quick-sketch portraiture.
The title story is a comic-strip fable brimming with magic and secret laughter that tells of one Jacob Quirk, an inveterate mimic so enamored of the concept of human freedom and man's ability to change that he devotes his life to the perfection of his mimetic art and, ultimately, to self-transformation. The extent of his vagaries limited only by his own imagination, Quirk buttons himself into bodies and peels them off at will as he pursues the rich varieties and subtleties of human experience.
Predictably, he soon comes to an enigmatic end, and we are left with the bareskin message of his magic striptease: "In whatever shape and form one finds himself, the only possible contentment accessible to a human being is to be at peace with oneself and rejoice at being...
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SOURCE: "George Garrett," in South Carolina Review, Vol. 9, No. 1, November, 1976, pp. 21-4.
[In the following essay, Tillinghast analyzes Garrett's writing style and surveys several of his works, including The Magic Striptease.]
Offhand observations often reveal truths about people and the times. When I was a child it was quite common to witness someone strolling along the street whistling a tune. No one whistles (or strolls) today.
Whistling is an unconscious gesture, usually a positive signal that everything is satisfactory. We all recognize, however, that there's little worth whistling about anymore. And each has his own way of handling this disheartening fact. Some refuse to confront, some maintain indifference, and some avoid despair by adopting the pitying, most damnable emotion, cynicism.
To me it is encouraging that someone who has the burden of seeing the truth in life so much more accurately than most of us, and feels it more poignantly, takes none of these approaches. George Garrett's very appearance gives him away. There is honesty in his eyes; a brightness, a glance suggesting a sense of humor, a steadiness that identifies him as a man who possesses a correct picture of this existence we find ourselves in: "sometimes neat and soft / as a puff of smoke / more often unkempt / extravagant and formless" (from an early poem, "Forsythia"). There is always the...
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SOURCE: An interview with George Garrett, in Transatlantic Review, No. 58/59, February, 1977, pp. 58-61.
[In the following interview, Garrett explains his approach to writing.]
George Garrett is a friend and helper to many of his fellow writers, a kind man who has been generous with his time and his energies, a warm, wild, funny man, a great storyteller, a vital person. A list of all his publications would take fifteen pages. In addition to books edited, articles, book reviews, poems and stories in periodicals, he has published four books of poems, five books of stories and four novels: The Finished Man; Which Ones Are the Enemy; Do, Lord, Remember Me; Death of the Fox. He also wrote Sir Blob and the Princess: A Play for Children, and the original story and the screenplay for the film, Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster. He has taught at Rice, Wesleyan, University of Virginia, Hollins College, University of South Carolina, Florida International University, and Princeton. He helped found Transatlantic Review and was for some years its poetry editor.
[Wier]: We were talking earlier about readers. How a reader, over a period of time, comes to anticipate what different writers are going to be doing in their books. When you write how much do you try to anticipate your reader? Do you have in mind an ideal reader, ideal reactions, etc.?...
(The entire section is 1712 words.)
SOURCE: "The Short Fiction of George Garrett," in Ploughshares, Vol. 4, No. 3, 1978, pp. 83-90.
[In the following essay, Peden surveys Garrett's short fiction, praising the author's writing skills and treatment of universal themes.]
George Garrett has written four volumes of short fiction along with about thirty uncollected pieces including "A Record As Long As Your Arm," which appears in this issue of Ploughshares. He's had his share of praise along the way, but not as much as his short fiction warrants. In a very real way, he's been a story-teller all his life, talking them before he could read, he tells me in some very recent conversations via cassette and the United States Postal Service. The most important single influence on his early stories was Chaucer, which really isn't very surprising when you consider the variety and exuberance of Garrett's canon.
An experimenter and an innovator for years before the much-publicized fictional "breakthroughs" of the Sixties, Garrett is constantly searching for form and method, for the right, the inevitable, marriage between subject matter and structure. "A Record As Long As Your Arm," for example, was begun as a relatively brief story, then rewritten as a chapter in an uncompleted novel, and then as a novella. At certain stages of his career he's worked simultaneously in the novel, poetry, and film as well as the shorter fictional...
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SOURCE: A review of To Recollect a Cloud of Ghosts, in North American Review, Vol. 265, No. 1, Spring, 1980, p. 69.
[In the following review, Peterson provides a synopsis and favorable review of To Recollect a Cloud of Ghosts.]
This is a wonderful book—quite literally, full of wonder. The occasion is Christmas in England, 1602-1603. The narrative begins its fine curve through the countryside from London, when an annual procession moves to the vast palace and grounds of Whitehall. As Queen Elizabeth I comes home, so does the season: the candles and flowers, Yule Log, fire and light and evergreens, rich cloths and tapestries, the Lords and Ladies of the Court. But this Christmas is to be the last for the aged Queen, and for the ghosts of her memory.
All the rituals of the season are observed. The dances are danced; the poems read; the supper eaten. Then Elizabeth is presented with her New Year's gifts—the treasure at the center of the story.
Garrett renders the jeweled lists of gifts in perfect counterpoint with memories of the "great and the powerful, the fortunate and privileged and celebrated." But also the soft and weak, the faithless.
Memories cloud the Court. The young women who attend the Queen can't understand or even believe in the nasty old woman and her dreams. They are dreamers of the future, who care nothing for these "lost names...
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SOURCE: "Plain and/or Fancy: Where the Short Story Is and May Be Going," in The Teller and the Tale: Aspects of the Short Story, edited by Wendell M. Aycock, Texas Tech Press, 1982, pp. 133-41.
[In the following essay, Garrett comments on the short story, examining the history of the genre and predicting its future.]
In his Harvard commencement speech of 1978, a speech which outraged a good many prominent people, Alexander Solzhenitsyn made a pertinent remark concerning what he had noticed about intellectual life in the United States:
Without any censorship in the West, fashionable trends of thought and ideas are fastidiously separated from those which are not fashionable and the latter, without ever being forbidden, have little chance of finding their way into periodicals or books or to be heard in colleges. Your scholars are free in the legal sense, but they are hemmed in by the idols of the prevailing fad. There is no open violence as in the East; however a selection dictated by fashion and the need to accommodate mass standards frequently prevent the most independent-minded persons from contributing to public life and give rise to dangerous herd instincts that block successful development.
["A World Split Apart," Vital Speeches, September 1, 1978, p. 681]
Solzhenitsyn's remark provides a good point...
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SOURCE: "Stories From a Lifetime," in Washington Post Book World, Vol. XV, No. 37, September 15, 1985, p. 5.
[In the following review, Jacobsen applauds An Evening Performance, referring to "Noise of Strangers," the final story in the collection, as "a contemporary classic."]
The short story is popularly supposed to be having a renaissance. Those who never envisaged or foretold its death, and who are familiar with the brevity of popular rebirths, are little impressed by this announced resurgence. Good short fiction has continued to appear in the better literary magazines and university quarterlies which have always been, as George Garrett points out in his preface, a haven for good stories. They have been stories of great variety, strongly experimental, socially oriented, or dealing head-on with basic human emotions, behavior and needs.
The stories of George Garrett belong to the last of these groups, but he brings to them the formidable resources of his work in poetry, and of the off-beat historical fiction of Death of the Fox and The Succession. The dangers for a short-story writer inherent in being also a poet and novelist are very real, and one of the major victories of this splendid collection is that those dangers have been avoided; there is no "poetic prose"—although there is plenty of poetry in the stories—as there are none of the lulls and detours which...
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SOURCE: A review of An Evening Performance, in the New York Times Book Review, October 6, 1985, p. 28.
[In the following review, Johnson provides a mixed assessment of An Evening Performance.]
Though best known for his historical novels—Death of the Fox and The Succession—George Garrett has also produced a large body of short fiction encompassing the American experience of the last 30 years. The stories collected [in An Evening Performance] describe the conflicts of adolescence, romantic and domestic turmoil, life in small Southern towns, academic life and wartime experiences, and they range in manner from the naturalistic to the near-farcical. Never less than workmanlike, solidly traditional in form, Mr. Garrett's stories frequently sound the theme of human cruelty. "Human beings are the foulest things in all creation," says a character in "Wounded Soldier," while the boy-narrator of "The Last of the Spanish Blood" is made to confront his own potential for evil and violence. "What's the Purpose of the Bayonet?," a powerful story of wartime, ends by indicting "the whole inhuman race." This abiding misanthropy does, however, allow for the saving grace of humor. "Bread From Stones," an amusing tale of a feckless gigolo, also forms a tiny critique of the American dream. Perhaps the best story in the volume, "Texarkana Was a Crazy Town," tells of a likable former...
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SOURCE: A review of An Evening Performance, in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 23, No. 2, Spring, 1986, pp. 205-06.
[In the following review, La Salle characterizes the stories in An Evening Performance as compelling and well-written.]
Surely the only ill effect of the critical acclaim granted George Garrett's big, haunting novels about Elizabethan England (Death of the Fox in 1974, and The Succession in 1983) was that it seemed to eclipse the fact that he has waged a long and important career in the genre of the short story, where for the last thirty years he has been chronicling in detail how Americans live.
Which is why An Evening Performance is so welcome. Gathered here is work from his four story collections as well as a half-dozen new or uncollected stories. The appearance of the book is even more significant because two of those earlier collections were released in smaller printings by university presses, and almost all of the stories originally appeared in literary magazines or quarterlies, as opposed to large-circulation publications.
Voice constitutes the essence of these pieces about Army life, university life, suburban life, and, most often, rural Southern life. Behind the probing of the characters of these always complex everyday people is an authorial tone that is compassionate and humorous, gentlemanly and...
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SOURCE: An interview with George Garrett, in New Orleans Review, Vol. 17, No. 4, Winter, 1990, pp. 33-40.
[In the following excerpt, Garrett discusses contemporary literature and explains various aspects of his own approach to writing.]
Celebrate the sixty years of author George Garrett, a national treasure. As artist, George Garrett has always had the courage to go beyond mastered skills to explore new genres and techniques. He is novelist, poet, short story writer, essayist, and satirist. With patience and humility he has become the very model of how to cultivate insight and craft throughout a career to achieve master works. In the rich narrative portraits and historical detailing of his critically acclaimed Elizabethan novels Death of the Fox (1971) and The Succession (1983), Garrett discovered worthy tapestries to display his diverse talents. In the autumn of 1990 he will publish the third of these Elizabethan works, Entered from the Sun. This novel centers on the sordid end of playwright Christopher Marlowe.
George Garrett has also been selfless in sharing his knowledge of the traditions and craft of writing. Currently he serves as Henry Hoyns Professor of Creative Writing at The University of Virginia. As a familiar in literary and academic circles, his generous sharing of his wit and wisdom has become legend. In this interview he reveals his astute grasp of...
(The entire section is 3527 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Whistling in the Dark, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 239, No. 22, May 11, 1992, p. 64.
[In the following brief review, the critic provides a favorable assessment of Whistling in the Dark.]
Much is enjoyable and uplifting in this farrago of memoir, fable, poem and essay, most of which previously appeared in such journals as Kenyon Review and Virginia Quarterly Review. [In Whistling in the Dark] Garrett, author of novels, poetry, short fiction, biography and criticism, strides down the paths his narratives take him with careful, assertive writing. In the reflective pieces, he often allows himself the heroic poise of inspirational rhetoric. As he tells of wartime experience and legacy, the noble character of his tribe (be it defined as blood relatives or Anglo-American white men), the two one-eyed (literally) coaches from his days at the Sewanee Military Academy and Princeton, or anecdotes from other halcyon days of academe, the prose has a lithe, muscular glow. Some readers will find this glow self-serving, even pompous. Garrett's style often rides clipped, declarative rhythms that are almost Hemingwayesque, and aspects of his material—war, Europe, pugilism—demand comparison to Papa. The book's second section, "Doing the Literary," indulges in backhand criticisms of certain literary figures' callowness or cowardliness, and authorial confidence begins to...
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