Marjorie Kellogg Essay - Critical Essays

Kellogg, Marjorie

Kellogg, Marjorie 1922–

An American novelist and social worker, Miss Kellogg is the author of Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon.

In the course of reading Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, I went through a series of emotions: first repulsion, then concern, then amusement—finally I was moved. The key to this transformation is, I think, the fact that the author has had the courage to make her "freaks" as different from us as they are similar to us. The latter is the easy part. Nothing human is alien to me: this is middle-class liberal doctrine today. It's the differences that count. Junie Moon's acid scars are only the top layer. But the scar tissue does not conceal any marshmallow center. Junie manages to be both tough-minded and womanly. Arthur's progressive neurological disease may just possibly be a willed malady in the form of a slow death. And Warren is as infantile in his behavior as if paraplegics were only children who can walk but choose not to. These freaks are many-dimensioned. And there is no Grand Guignol.

Junie Moon, Arthur and Warren walk through the neat American landscape like cautionary wraiths, reminders of the disfigurement, ravishment and madness of life. They also remind us that our accommodation with the orderly, healthy surface of life is a provisional matter. That they do this with a smile, and that we can smile at them, is cause for celebration—and gratitude.

Daniel Stern, "Love Among Life's Wounded," in Life (courtesy Life Magazine; © 1968 Time Inc.), October 4, 1968.

I don't know exactly what the currently fashionable criteria would be for first-rate fiction but, by almost any criteria that I can think of, this rare little novel [Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon] is going to deserve considerable praise and admiration….

The book is beautiful and will be remembered, I believe, not because of its eery details and assorted oddities but because it is simple, truthful and consoling. There are pain, compassion and understanding in this writing. It is a very gentle-spirited, small and special novel.

Jonathan Kozol, "Like Three Pawnshop Balls," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 6, 1968, p. 4.

[Miss Kellogg's] characterizations [in Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon] are neither bathetic nor sensationalized. Whenever the book begins to soften into sentimentality, which is a little too often, she flashes a cauterizing wit. She also resists the temptation to moralize. The common humanity of her people reveals itself indirectly, through their power to stir over lonely beings whose disfigurements are merely emotional. Arthur's death after his brief romance with Junie is rather predictable, and the ending is too pat. But Miss Kellogg displays an easy, lightly satirical command of the hospital medical milieu, as befits a professional therapist…. And, perhaps most promising of all, she writes with a crispness and economy that is all too rare in any novel—first, last or in between.

Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; © 1968 by Time Inc.), October 11, 1968, p. 110.

["Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon"] is a driving book, full of sharp observation, keen wit and intelligence—and driven not only by the author's natural narrative skill, but also by a sense of compassion and gentleness that becomes its own engine, overrunning both the book's sentimentality and the reader's defenses against it.

Eliot Fremont-Smith, "The Passion of Compassion," in The New York Times (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 18, 1968.

Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon is far better—more original, literate and deeply felt—than most novels being written today, but it is not, by any means, the masterpiece some reviewers have called it. Written in a tight, overly controlled style, this first novel is very affecting, but a bit too "well-crafted."

Edmund White, "Victims of Love," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1968 by Harrison-Blaine of New Jersey, Inc.), November 23, 1968, p. 38.

The action in Junie Moon is all just coping with existence. That, somehow is what Miss Kellogg's trio of freaks manage once they leave the hospital to live in a creepy little house beneath a big banyan tree. They seem to bring out the very worst and best in those around them. They are beset by gossips and the oddball rich. But with the help of an Italian fish peddler, they cope. Merely that.

Yes, yes. Upper-case Love, an affirmation of the triumph of the human spirit, and similar abstract comforts can certainly be found in this book. But in all, Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, is remarkable less for the things it says than for the restraint with which it says them. Given the same situation and characters, Marjorie Kellogg could have been pietistic, clinical, or surrealistic. She could consciously have imitated any of the writers with whom she has been compared. But she has mostly managed to resist such temptations, has kept her eye directly on her characters, and has written her own book. A very impressive first novel it is.

Bruce Cook, in National Observer, December 23, 1968.

Though Miss Kellogg is not Southern, she owes much to the works of Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, and Flannery O'Conner, three gently savage Southern ladies. Like them, Miss Kellogg [in Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon] sets her grotesques against a background superficially smooth, but, beneath the surface, horrible. When Junie, Arthur, and Warren come from the hospital to live in the house under the banyon tree, we witness their arrival from the perspective of Sidney Wyner, their next-door neighbor. Defiantly normal, Sidney wears a stained, sleeveless undershirt and sucks his lip back over his teeth. He spies on them over his hedge until they hit him with one of Junie's stone-hard brownies—the moral grotesque driven off by the physical grotesques. In such an encounter we can only sympathize with the freaks and judge the inhabitants of our "normal" world as loony. Miss Kellogg owes this juxtaposition of the beautifully freakish with the horribly normal to the tradition of the Southern Grotesque which plays off "Germany" against "soul." However, it should be quickly added that Miss Kellogg's novel lacks the complexity of juxtaposition we can see in Carson McCullers's "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter." There, the dummy Singer does not confront such obvious moral grotesques as Sidney; there, the enemy is not so easily identified by having a dirty undershirt and constant sneer.

Shaun O'Connell, in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; © 1969 by The Village Voice, Inc.), February 6, 1969, pp. 6, 8.

Marjorie Kellogg's first novel, Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, is brilliantly clever. It presents three grotesque characters who meet in a hospital and decide, upon their discharge, to take a house together. Junie Moon has been viciously beaten and disfigured with acid, and she is painfully aware of how monstrous she seems. Warren has been shot in the spine by a fellow homosexual, and he is now fully paralyzed. Arthur has a neurological disease which makes for seizures and uncontrolled movements, and he has long been treated as if he were feeble-minded. The three of them find a comparably grotesque house, with a savagely misanthropic window-peeper living next door, with a banyan tree in the garden and a horned owl in the tree. All three characters are intensely self-aware, although Warren is less honest than the others. There are moments of resentment and pique, but there are wonderful tact and grace in their relations, making do as they must with what they are and with the little they have. Central to their lives is the yearning for love, defensively disguised and tartly denied, always ready for scorn or rebuff, flaunted in the fictions of memory or imagination.

This is a highly original novel. It might call to mind the cheerfulness that kept breaking into John Steinbeck's shorter novels. On the other hand, the style is dry and sharp, with something of the conciseness and unashamed control that we find in Muriel Spark. One of the curious effect of this combination of qualities is that the central characters seem mere disguises for a trio of adroit and beautifully timed comic performers. Their flashing sarcasm or mock sententiousness, stray fancies and deft mimicry, create the effect of carefully rehearsed comedy, venturing frequently into pathos and blackness, never allowing onto believe whole-heartedly in the harshness … it intimates. It is, in the long run, a comfortable book, and it draws together all kinds of familiar themes: the insulted and injured, the mocking rebel, the suffering clown, the indomitable poor. It treats these characters romantically and yet dryly, and it comforts us without embarrassing us.

Martin Price, in The Yale Review (© 1969 by Yale University; reprinted by permission of the editors), Spring, 1969, pp. 472-73.

Written with the simplicity, the energy, the concrete beauty of a child's speech, "Like the Lion's Tooth" is a wrenching tale of raped, abandoned children who have been ravaged of everything but the power to need. Marjorie Kellogg achieves the extraordinary feat of writing about atrocities with her eye fixed on love, infusing into the mutilation of innocents the sense that, even if parents use and wreck them, the young can keep each other whole and alive….

Miss Kellogg's school is filled with the loving, needing, damaged young. Through their yearning for each other she achieves a hard optimism more moving than anything in her first novel, "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon." "Like the Lion's Tooth" is a stark, passionate book, pure in its belief that the tenderest victims of human cruelty and inhuman social forces can love sublimely, can be overpoweringly humane.

Josephine Hendin, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 5, 1972, p. 4.

Sexual molestations, beatings, and general abuse of children among the underprivileged in New York City slum areas, and the bumbling incompetence of officials in charge of "children's shelters" are all given sympathetic examination in a new Kellogg novella [Like the Lion's Tooth], high in emotional content and outraged indignation. Her treatment throughout, written alternately from the viewpoints of the children involved and an anonymous narrator, constitutes a powerful indictment of our society for its callous neglect of a little understood phenomenon of our times, the cruelty of parents toward youngsters. Her book is an effective, adroitly handled presentation of indisputable superiority.

Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 49, No. I (Winter, 1973), p. viii.