(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

John Laskell is thirty-three and is recovering from a serious illness that almost cost him his life. He is also mourning the recent death of his fiancée. In many ways, he is facing a midlife crisis. At one stage of his sickness, he longs for death, spending his time admiring the perfection of a flower that will soon fade out of existence. The Crooms have invited him to their summer home in the hope of speeding his return to good health.

On the train taking Laskell to visit the Crooms is Gifford Maxim, who has gone through his own time of trial. He has lived underground as a Communist agent and then sought sanctuary with friends, whom he asks to help protect him from the Party in his transition to the role of prominent anti-Communist. The Crooms, particularly Nancy, are shocked by Maxim’s turnabout, and it becomes Laskell’s task to mediate between the apostate and his friends, who are “fellow travelers” who still believe in the Party.

Maxim pays a disturbing visit to the Crooms with Kermit Simpson, the publisher of a “rather sad liberal monthly,” The New Era. With Laskell’s help, Maxim has managed to get a job writing for Simpson and to have his name put on the masthead of the journal—an important achievement for a man who believes that his safety depends upon the establishment of a public identity. The Crooms dismiss Maxim’s fears as paranoia, even though they have no firsthand knowledge of the Party’s secret...

(The entire section is 479 words.)

The Middle of the Journey Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Leitch, Thomas M. Lionel Trilling: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1993. A comprehensive guide to primary and secondary sources on Trilling’s work. Leitch’s critical introduction places Trilling in context of his social and political times.

Shatzky, Joel, and Michael Taub, eds. Contemporary Jewish-American Novelists: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. Includes an entry on Trilling’s life, major works and themes, an overview of his critical reception, and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Strout, Cushing. “A Dark Wood in the Middle of the Journey: Willa Cather and Lionel Trilling.” The Sewanee Review 105 (Summer, 1997): 381-394. Details the hostility between Cather and Trilling. Strout asserts that Cather and Trilling express similar views and that they may have had a more cordial relationship had they truly known each other.

Tanner, Stephen L. Lionel Trilling. Boston: Twayne, 1988. Tanner provides a critical and interpretive study of Trilling with a close reading of his major works, a solid bibliography, and complete notes and references.

Trilling, Diana. The Beginning of the Journey: The Marriage of Diana and Lionel Trilling. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993. A memoir by Trilling’s wife. She offers a personal glimpse into Trilling’s personality, their marriage, and his unhappiness at not having achieved stature as a novelist.