Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

James T. Farrell has never been praised as a stylist; in fact, he is often described as an undistinguished writer of prose. His power comes, as it does with many American writers, from sheer force and accumulation, the command and sweep of factual material that does not need or solicit strenuous interpretation (though the car crash could be viewed as an allegory for the stock-market crash to come). Farrell overwhelms the reader with the visceral, with what he describes, somewhat mockingly, in “Saturday Night,” through the words of poet Wolcroft, as not just “realism. That’s old-fashioned. My poetry, now, it’s superrealist.” Farrell’s early naturalistic writing was in the mainstream and remained fashionable until that stream was thoroughly diverted and rechanneled after World War II.

Farrell, though he wrote many short stories, was not so much a master of the form as its earnest supplicant. The stories he wrote that were short enough became short stories instead of novels. Farrell had a novelist’s skill at synthesizing but also the novelist’s appetite for size, for the repetitive scene; the short story form does not profit from that sort of segmentation. Farrell’s stories are often novels in miniature, rather than short stories in full bloom—although “Saturday Night” is one of his most effective, rich with humor, energy, and life, and not simply scenes from a novel writ small.

Saturday Night Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Branch, Edgar M. James T. Farrell. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1963.

Branch, Edgar M. James T. Farrell. New York: Twayne, 1971.

Branch, Edgar M. Studs Lonigan’s Neighborhood and the Making of James T. Farrell. Newton, Mass.: Arts End Books, 1996.

Fanning, Charles. “Death and Revery in James T. Farrell’s O’Neill-O’Flaherty Novels.” In The Incarnate Imagination: Essays in Theology, the Arts, and Social Sciences, in Honor of Andrew Greeley, edited by Ingrid H. Shafer. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1988.

Fried, Lewis F. Makers of the City. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990.

Landers, Robert K. An Honest Writer: The Life and Times of James T. Farrell. San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2004.

Pizer, Donald. “James T. Farrell and the 1930’s.” In Literature at the Barricades: The American Writer in the 1930’s, edited by Ralph F. Bogardus and Fred Hobson. University: University of Alabama Press, 1982.

Pizer, Donald. Twentieth-Century American Literary Naturalism: An Interpretation. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982.

Smith, Gene. “The Lonigan Curse.” American Heritage 46 (April, 1995): 150-151.

Twentieth Century Literature: A Scholarly and Critical Journal 22 (February, 1976).

Wald, Alan M. James T. Farrell: The Revolutionary Socialist Years. New York: New York University Press, 1978.