Joanne Greenberg Essay - Greenberg, Joanne

Greenberg, Joanne

Greenberg, Joanne 1932– (Hannah Green)

Ms Greenberg, an American novelist and short story writer, is best known for I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, which she wrote under her pseudonym. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

"The Pain, Trouble & Failure business," as a character in a half-despairing mood phrases it, is the subject of Joanne Greenberg's novel ["The Monday Voices"]. Despite one fleeting comic incident, the story is somber, disheartening, grand and gripping.

The strange, harried hero is Ralph Oakland. Going on middle age, married, official of the Department of Rehabilitation, he has the task of taking the crippled and disabled, fitting them for jobs, and finding the jobs. (p. 38)

From the very first these hapless mortals are herded in and out of Oakland's rugged, stanch presence. They range from good to bad, bright to moronic, submissive to rebellious. One has lost a leg and, while he learns a new trade, suffers repeated infections at the point of amputation. You can't be sure whether he'll live; or, if he lives, whether he'll learn his trade; or, if he lives and learns the trade, whether he can find a job. (pp. 38-9)

There are Cuban refugees, a professor sinking into diseased senility, an ignorant farm hand with a mechanical knack. A beautiful Dumb Dora and a cowed boy, most ineptly prepared for life by loving but uninformed elders, challenge Oakland's patience and know-how….

Few books stick so closely to a theme as "The Monday Voices." The setting is the office, the desk, the telephone; the action is the repeated confrontations; the pace is dizzying. Even Mrs. Oakland is dismissed cursorily in this novel as she would be in real life by a husband passionately involved in his calling. His half-hour appointments string on and on dramatically, broken by conferences, by appeals from other agencies, by anguished cries from the disadvantaged. He never lifts his nose from the grindstone, and the reader never does, either. Nor does he want to.

The final note is optimistic; some hearts can be mended, some rawnesses healed, some grim frowns changed to smiles. There could be no better plea for society's support of the lame, the halt and the blind; and when the lame, halt and blind provide us such an intense and fiery experience, they deserve all we can do for them.

Mrs. Greenberg's "The King's Persons" was a highly praised historical novel set in 12th-century England. This second book could hardly be more different, even though in each case the background appears to be factual. Her extraordinary reach is one of several proofs of a distinguished talent. (p. 39)

W. G. Rogers, "Broken Lives Remade," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1965 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 11, 1965, pp. 38-9.

Picking up this collection of well-written, highly readable, and sensitive stories [Summering], one has a strong sense of déjà vu. Here are the moments of sensibility and minor revelation ensconced in often elegant little narratives. Dialogue, setting, small touches from which large insights into character and fate may be inferred—all are given their due attention. But the feeling that these stories are somehow vestigial survivals from the past is unavoidable. There is absolutely no reason why most of them could not have been written in, say, 1934, though enough has happened since then to revolutionize many writers' conceptions of the nature of man and civilization. At the same time, such stories as "Lullabies," "Two Annas," or "You Can Still Grow Flowers" are well worth reading.

What is the answer? Does the writer not have to be of his time? When is style fashion, and when is it true style? Is a story that could as well have been written in 1934 as in 1966 dated, or classic?… [While] a new, contemporary tone is being announced and explored by the most talented of our young writers, many still practice the ancient narrative art.

The best example of such art—or artifice—in Summering is the long title story…. The story's fascination is also its weakness. When the folk dialogue, which is couched in a kind of invented rural poetry, works, it is compelling; when it fails, it is embarrassing. (pp. 63-4)

"A Passion in Eden," "Virtuoso," and many of the other stories add to the impression that Joanne Greenberg is a gifted writer listening for her own voice. Often in these pages she seems to have found it; at other times the music fails her. Her inventive imagery seems to be asking for equal invention in form. Should she succeed in fusing the two, I think all the quibbles about newness or datedness will be forgotten. In the meantime, Mrs. Greenberg shows in this volume that she is worth attending. (p. 64)

Daniel Stern, "Tales Told Out of Time," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1966 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission), September 10, 1966, pp. 63-4.

Joanne Greenberg is a charming writer, who writes about our current social problems without being doctrinaire or propagandistic or stuffy. Not many writers can do that. It is so difficult, in fact, that most of our best writers don't try. They leave life to the hacks. Mrs. Greenberg's Summering is therefore a very welcome indication that the experiences and personalities of freedom workers in the South and social workers in the North can be the matter of excellent fiction while the problems are still with us. (p. 681)

J. Mitchell Morse, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1966 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XIX, No. 4, Winter, 1966–67.

Joanne Greenberg has made a career of describing the troubles that beset the handicapped. Her best known novel, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, was published under a pseudonym but definitely bore her mark: it explored the difficult return to health of a girl suffering from grave emotional illness. [In This Sign is] about a deaf couple who plunge into debt when they are unable to hear a salesman explain the terms on a car. The misfortune drains them of lightheartedness and turns their daughter into a tangle of nerves. Such a woeful tale is inherently moving, but this one lacks the impact of Rose Garden, which had the advantage of focusing on the interior life of only one character. Like the earlier book, In This Sign is constructed of unobtrusive prose, but here the unobtrusiveness merely seems inadequate. (p. 31)

The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1971 by The New Republic, Inc.), February 13, 1971.

Those who protect their heartstrings at all costs from being tugged at by professional writers would do well to avoid Joanne Greenberg's In This Sign. As a stolid family chronicle it resembles the less vigorous works of Zola in its deliberate, almost deterministic progress. Its skill, and here I find it remarkable despite instinctive misgivings, consists in its coming to terms with the problem of deafness, not merely in its readily imaginable practical implications but in the more fundamental sense of what can and cannot be said with the hands. I was surprised by the tact of the book, but vaguely dismayed, perhaps unwarrantably, by the discovery that Mrs Greenberg has already tackled the healing of a schizophrenic in novel form. Uncharitably, one distrusts the thought of a guided tour of man's afflictions, however well conducted. (p. 308)

R. R. Davies, in New Statesman (© 1971 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), September 3, 1971.

In This Sign usually avoids the excesses of sentimentality expected of a novel about the deaf, while technically Joanne Greenberg has managed to find a way of writing conversations between deaf and hearing with inordinate skill, as well as the less usual situations between deaf and deaf.

The story covers a period of almost fifty years and traces the fortunes of a deaf couple, Abel and Janice Ryder, and their family…. A life of difficulty and innocence in the harsh and materialist United States of the Depression and after is movingly evoked, although the writing does on a number of occasions lapse into a softness which is understandable in the context of the feeling Mrs Greenberg has obviously brought to her subject, but which is softness none the less.

"The Silent World," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1971; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), October 15, 1971, p. 1291.