Henry Bromell Essay - Critical Essays

Bromell, Henry

Bromell, Henry 1942–

Bromell, an American, is a prize-winning short story writer.

In the vise of inexorable time, all distances prevail, even the slightest which are those between lovers, between husbands and wives, parents and offspring. Love cannot wholly bridge the gap, however briefly the illusion is favored that distances are narrowed. Life is lived balanced "between the temptation to remember and the sympathetic magic" of our still moments of isolated consciousness.

So ponderous a theme this is, albeit a familiar one, that a young writer takes a catastrophic risk in attempting to deal with it. Proust, Borges, and Virginia Woolf remain literary monarchs. But Harry Bromell, at twenty-six, his fiction appearing almost exclusively in the New Yorker, has been undaunted. His crystal-clear, tightly spun stories … collected [in The Slightest Distance] set in chronological order, add up to a surprisingly impressive first novel. (pp. 116-17)

Henry Bromell has proved himself a writer to shout about. (p. 117)

Nolan Miller, in The Antioch Review (copyright © 1975 by The Antioch Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission of the editors), Vol. 33, No. 1, 1975.

A delicate nostalgia is the predominant mood of ["The Slightest Distance," a] collection of spare family miniatures, nine stories … about the various generations and branches of the Richardson family, all of whom share a common malaise-cum-philosophy: all are slightly out of register with the present moment so that they are almost always either longing or remembering. The "single quivering instant of love" in which one is fully alive is brief and rare. All the Richardsons are, in their various ways, aware of this mystifying human predicament, which has to do with the enigmatic nature of time and "the way the heart works." Each … voices an explicit variation on this theme…. Each of the stories laconically delineates the almost event-less surface of a moment in family life in counterpoint with these moments of numb reflection, or of memory, so seductive and elusive. There seems no real connection between event and event, or event and triggered memory.

This is very restrained, New Yorkerish writing—often a still life, luminous and blank. The whole richness of family life can only be inferred from a gesture as bare as an object or glimpsed in the rear-view mirror of memory. The Richardsons in their puzzled quest for what? can seem maddeningly tepid and tentative; their moments of dazzled realization that they are alive are precious few. Relentless indefiniteness, easing now and then into discreet lyricism, even a slight sentimentality. But the last two stories, "Balcony" and "Old Friends," become more vigorous, candid and explicit and take hold a little more. (p. 16)

Annie Gottlieb, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 5, 1975.

Henry Bromell's [The Slightest Distance] won the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award, no easy one to ignore since past winners include Penn Warren, Elizabeth Bishop, Roth, Clancy Sigal, Robert Stone and Willie Morris. These stories, mostly published in The New Yorker, seemed when I read a couple of them there to be too quickly classifiable as made-to-order for the magazine; too quietly knowing about how well-bred stories ought to be written. But collected and read together they changed my mind. Bromell, writing about a family seen through the eyes of its members—particularly one son—doesn't have any fancy stunts or big ideas to get rolling; the stories are no better than they feel in the moment-to-moment development through conversation and narrator-reflection….

Bromell is twenty-six but doesn't have a message from youth to deliver, nor a bee in his bonnet of any sort I have been able to detect. He is willing to hang around his characters and see if anything will transpire, which means that a reader should have an ear for dead air and less than striking exchanges. It is surely post-post-Hemingway, but done with real modesty and politeness and a tough assurance that suggest Bromell may be no more than a good writer. At any rate these stories are worth looking up. (p. 156)

William H. Pritchard, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1975 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXVIII, No. 1, Spring, 1975.