Stop-Time Essay - Critical Context

Frank Conroy

Critical Context

Before publication of Stop-Time, Frank Conroy was entirely unknown as a writer. Since, he has produced occasional journalism and Midair (1985), a spare assemblage of short fiction with evident autobiographical elements. He remains primarily recognized for his first book. Despite the superb story, “Gossip,” whose excellence has been recognized by Terrence Rafferty in The Nation, Midair covers much the same ground as the autobiography, from scenes of a boy tormented by an insane father to suicidal “car games” of reckless speed. While repeating its incidents and its frenetic mood, the stories lack the rich context of the autobiography.

Stop-Time itself extends the reaches of twentieth century autobiography, especially in the difficult subgenre of the autobiography of childhood. It has been postulated that since childhood is constructed of trivialities, true autobiographies of childhood were unknown until the techniques of the Symbolists allowed revelation of the most profound meaning in apparently insignificant events. Conroy has packed his book with such trivialities, and because of his skill in portraying juvenile consciousness, they become the highly potent details of a study in human perception. As Tony Tanner notes, Conroy is able to capture “this receptivity of the child’s psyche, to communicate to us that feeling of the process whereby the individual consciousness gradually takes on definition as it allows its vacancy to be ‘topped up’ with the images of things, whatever they may be, which are always there.”

Conroy also develops the autobiography as what Paul John Eakin calls “the art of self-invention” and overtly acknowledges that function. Conroy’s emphasis on visual perception rather than language acquisition in the self-inventive process may result in his neglect by the dominant school of deconstructionist critics, who focus upon language as the primary mode of consciousness. Stop-Time’s achievement, however, is to be one of the first books consciously to model itself on what has now become a theoretical truism: that autobiography will be less the representation of a given reality than the existential act of self-creation.