The Old Left (Magill Book Reviews)
THE OLD LEFT is a sequence of linked stories, a hybrid form somewhere between the novel and the short story collection as traditionally defined. The eight stories follow their central character, David Leonard, from his twenties to his forties; in all of them except the first, he is the narrator as well as the protagonist.
Formerly a newspaper reporter whose beat was City Hall, David has become a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism. Most of the stories focus on his relationship with his Uncle Sol, an unreconstructed Communist who, in his eighties, remains as pugnacious as ever. David’s dealings with him, laden with memories of boyhood summers at Uncle Sol’s farmhouse in the Berkshires, are a mixture of love and exasperation. At the same time, the stories offer an oblique chronicle of David’s slow acceptance of the roles of husband (he does not marry until he is thirty-eight) and father. His wife, Elizabeth, whom he meets in the Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Marsupials, is a vivid presence rendered with unembarrassed affection; the same is true of their son, Charlie, whose growth from infant to formidable two-year-old counterpoints Uncle Sol’s decline.
Although these stories are not strikingly original on the surface, they have their own distinct and very appealing flavor. Menaker has a fine eye for comic incongruities, yet he observes his characters with a gentleness uncommon in contemporary fiction. There is one...
(The entire section is 324 words.)
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The Old Left (Magill's Literary Annual 1988)
The Old Left is not a random collection of short stories, but an integrated sequence. It traces the protagonist’s development from a rather oversensitive and callow young man to middle age and the acceptance of the various responsibilities it brings. The central relationships of the book are within the family: David and his brother Nick; David and his wife Elizabeth; and, above all, David and his Uncle Sol. Uncle Sol appears in all but the first two stories, and his changing relationship with David also unifies the sequence.
The Old Left begins with a stunning story, “Brothers,” on the death of Nick Leonard, David’s brother. The story begins in a deceptively idyllic holiday game of touch football in which the two brothers are playing their Boston cousins. Menaker emphasizes the differences between the brothers with curiously skewed sentences. “Nick could fix small things, David’s handwriting was impatient-looking and crude. Nick told stories, David joked.” There is, however, an important bond between the brothers. Reared by indifferent or absent parents, David perceives Nick as the only constant in an unstable world. This bond has loosened with Nick’s marriage, but it remains crucial for David. The disruption in that bond is brought about by a taunting demand that Nick play pass defense and take the burden off David. This brotherly banter is, perhaps, an echo of their earlier relationship. Unfortunately, Nick then injures...
(The entire section is 2033 words.)
Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1988)
Booklist. LXXXIII, April 15, 1987, p. 1249.
Kirkus Reviews. LV, February 15, 1987, p. 249.
Library Journal. CXII, April 15, 1987, p. 100.
The Nation. CCXLIV, May 30, 1987, p. 736.
The New York Times. CXXXVII, April 27, 1987, p. 17.
The New York Times Book Review. XCII, May 3, 1987, p. 15.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXI, March 13, 1987, p. 71.
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