Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

During the 1960’s, when Brodkey gained prominence as a short-story writer, his early stories were characterized by a sense of control. With “Innocence,” he commences on a different path. The prose of this story is chatty and meanders from point to point. There is no doubt that this is an autobiographical story. In his earlier work, there was at least a pretense of separateness. However, when Wiley utters the words “I distrust summaries” and later in the same paragraph states, “I admire the authority of being on one’s knees in front of the event,” it is clear that the reader is in the presence of none other than the author himself.

A recollection of a real event, the story is told from every possible angle. For a story that is more than thirty pages long, the reader may well ask when will enough be enough. The author’s obsessions permeate the story; what may pass as civilized prose is of no interest to Brodkey. In “Innocence” and other stories that followed, there is a certain frenzy that envelops what transpires within the stories. The author’s own personal history overshadows all else in these stories.

For all the sexual explicitness of “Innocence,” the story is not set up to be an erotic rush for the curious reader. At times, the sexual content borders on the clinical, reflecting Brodkey’s admiration for “the authority of being on one’s knees in front of the event.” “Innocence” is thus the culmination of memory merged. Brodkey’s self-absorption in his own past has been magnificently thrown together. The reader becomes a coconspirator with the arrogant author who has let loose the achings of his soul onto the page.

Innocence Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bawer, Bruce. “A Genius for Publicity.” The New Criterion 7 (December, 1988): 58-69.

Bidney, Martin. “Song of Innocence and of Experience: Rewriting Blake in Brodkey’s ’Piping Down the Valleys Wild.’” Studies in Short Fiction 31 (Spring, 1994): 237-246.

Braham, Jeanne. “The Power of Witness.” The Georgia Review 52 (Spring, 1998): 168-180.

Brodkey, Harold. This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death. New York: Henry Holt, 1996.

Dolan, J. D. “Twilight of an Idol.” Nation 262 (March 25, 1995): 35-36.

Kermode, Frank. “I Am Only Equivocally Harold Brodkey.” The New York Times Book Review, September 18, 1988, 3.

Mano, D. Keith. “Harold Brodkey: The First Rave.” Esquire 87 (January, 1977): 14-15.

Weiseltier, Leon. “A Revelation.” The New Republic 192 (May 20, 1985): 30-33.