Gold, Herbert (Vol. 14)
While still in his 40's, Gold had published perhaps a hundred short stories and as many articles, most of them knowledgeable, polished and promising. He was considered by many "a writer to watch," one of the possible heirs apparent of the Bellow-Malamud generation….
By the time "The Great American Jackpot" and "Swifty the Magician" appeared, the pendulum had swung and reviewers were ready to pan books that were not so very different from those that had been praised.
It is easier to point out what is wrong with Gold's novels than to discover why critics and the public were so slow to react to these flaws—or why they reacted to them at all. Though Gold often substitutes shtik for character development in his novels, so do quite a few other authors … without suffering any loss of popularity….
Perhaps Mr. Gold's trouble is not that his books are pretentious, but that they are not pretentious enough….
W. B. Yeats defined rhetoric as the attempt of the will to do the work of the imagination. Gold's rhetoric might be defined as the attempt of the head to do the work of the heart. He seems to prefer theoretical people to real ones, characters who might say: "I talk, therefore I am." "Waiting for Cordelia" is a relentless talkathon, everybody reaching for effect instead of for us or each other. (p. 14)
Anatole Broyard, "Gold, Simenon, Latham," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 22, 1977, pp. 14, 28.∗
What Mr Gold has succeeded in doing with considerable success [in Waiting for Cordelia] is to give a picture of modern San Francisco….
Mr Gold has an amusingly 'scummy' wit…. He also has a gift for creating pathetic and grotesque characters…. [One such character, a Russian agent,] eager always to be in the vanguard, sexually, socially or philologically, asks the narrator what word has now succeeded 'groovy'. Flash, fly, cool? the Russian suggests. The narrator tells him: neato. Mr Gold's novel is neato, as well as being flash, fly, cool and groovy. But it is like an organism without a backbone. The disparate elements show a hectic vigour; but there is nothing to hold them together, much less to coordinate their movements. (p. 21)
Francis King, "Neato," in The Spectator (© 1978 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 241, No. 7832, August 12, 1978, pp. 20-1.
Waiting for Cordelia is soggy with stale crumbs from the bottom of the Great American Crackerbarrel—'perfection means you are what you are'—and the earth-mother heroine is too sweet'n'sad to be true. When she is not big-heartedly giving her clients 'specials' at a cut price, Cordelia is 'squeezing away at the fret in her heart'. Al is a sad sack, too. He wants 'to link my stiff wet lonely soul with the welcoming wet soul of someone'. There is altogether too much 'wet soul' in this ramblingly episodic book. Gold is at his best when he abandons his folksy philosophising and just tells funny stories. (p. 319)
John Mellors, "Roman Road," in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1978; reprinted by permission of John Mellors), Vol. 100, No. 2576, September 7, 1978, pp. 318-19.∗
H. T. Anderson
Not long into Slave Trade I found myself wondering what I was doing reading a novel about pederasty and male prostitution…. The whole thing is in the private eye genre. Sid Kasdan is wry, glib, and underwhelming. He is also rather boring even though what happens to him can hardly be construed as tedious….
He is hired by an international ring that supplies very vulnerable young men to very invulnerable old ones…. His job is to escort the escorts all over the world to their appointed destinations and when possible to do a bit of recruiting. The fact that he even considers doing it produces the novel's minor tension. He does have some reservations about it which produces a little bit more.
Slave Trade has been heralded as a detective story that spins its own fable. Perhaps—but fabulous it isn't.
H. T. Anderson, "Fiction: 'Slave Trade'," in Best Sellers (copyright © 1979 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), Vol. 39, No. 3, June, 1979, p. 85.
[Slave Trade] features Sid Kasdan, one of the most morose private eyes in recent memory. Kasdan's wife has left him, his investigator's license has been revoked, he's broke, he's getting old, and sometimes, when nothing else is convenient, he broods about his big toe, or at least the part of it that got shot off in Korea….
Gold writes well enough when he really wants to. Unfortunately, the style that he has adopted for this book, a kind of San Francisco flip, is relentless and ultimately wearying. And his hero's continuous maundering over his lost wife, lost youth, lost chances and lost toe really doesn't help matters much. (p. E4)
Ross Thomas, "The Thrill of the Chase," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1979, The Washington Post), June 3, 1979, pp. E1, E4.∗