Broughton, T(homas) Alan
Broughton, T(homas) Alan 1936–
Broughton is an American novelist, short story writer, and poet. His well-crafted novels render the complexity of intimate family relationships sensitively and freshly; especially moving is his portrayal of adolescent initiation. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 45-48; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 2.)
"A Family Gathering" is a tight, unpretentious novel about the little crumbling disorders and disentanglements of nieces, nephews, uncles and aunts….
T. Alan Broughton's novel has the grace of a story told without embellishments or shock effects. Broughton doesn't crow at us with the terrors he describes. "A Family Gathering" is a tough, slender, heartbreaking book.
Jerome Charyn, "Betrayed by Adults," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 15, 1977, p. 13.
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A Family Gathering is what one always hopes a first novel will be—a fresh, carefully crafted, and moving story. The ending is a bit unconvincing, but that is a quibble. T. Alan Broughton, a poet and short-story writer, has written a wise and tender book….
Nothing could be more familiar than a novel about the crises of adolescence and middle age, but Broughton tells the familiar story with remarkable freshness and authority. His prose is clear and economical, at times beautiful, and never descends into cliche. What is most impressive is his ability to express the fleeting consciousness of both Bailey and his son. We float in and out of their minds with astonishing ease; Broughton perfectly captures the jumble of desires, fears, hesitancies, and confusions that drive both of these driven men. His touch is always deft.
A Family Gathering is a surprising oasis—a quiet, affecting, unassertive novel without cant or sentimentality. It has been compared to James Agee's Death in the Family, and it is equal to the comparison. It is a wonderful debut by a gifted young writer.
Sheldon Frank, "Rattling the Skeletons: A Familiar Tale, Freshly Told," in The National Observer (reprinted by permission of The National Observer; © Dow Jones & Company, Inc. 1977; all rights reserved), June 13, 1977, p. 21.
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The Virginia Quarterly Review
Alan Broughton does not hesitate to treat subjects that have been treated before, but he does it so well [in A Family Gathering] that one cannot hold it against him. Not since Catcher in the Rye have we had such a perceptive study of a young boy's coming of age. After Holden Caulfield, Lawson Wright, and Lawson does not suffer from the comparison. One regrets that the two other principal characters, Bailey and Jacqueline, are comparatively dim. The author clearly wishes these two, the parents, to stand on their own, but it would have been a better book if we had seen them only through Lawson's eyes. When this has been said, there is nothing left but praise for a very absorbing first novel. There is a marvelous description of a country wedding that must surely take a place among the classics of its kind. Altogether a novel to be read and enjoyed for some time to come.
"Notes on Current Books: 'A Family Gathering'," in The Virginia Quarterly Review (copyright, 1978, by The Virginia Quarterly Review, The University of Virginia), Vol. 54, No. 1 (Winter, 1978), p. 21.
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Everything in "Winter Journey" corresponds—twice, wine is thrown in someone's face; three times, a face is slapped; faces are bruised and smashed by automobiles, not to mention a dog—and yet nothing in "Winter Journey" smacks of the laboratory or smells of the writer's workshop. Nancy, suspicious of and susceptible to patterns, those repetitions that fill the vacant places, saves the novel from a scheme.
Nancy, in fact, is the most interesting American mother I can recall eavesdropping on in many years…. [She] puts herself together again [after a divorce], and the choice she allows her son to make is a choice she was denied. I have the feeling that in this novel the wrong people have the wrong sex—Rome will do that to you—but the right writer was at the piano.
John Leonard, "'Winter Journey'," in The New York Times, Section III (© 1980 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 11, 1980 (and reprinted in Books of the Times, Vol. III, No. 2, 1980, pp. 74-5).
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[This] is what it is like to read "Winter Journey": It is the mid-1950's, and your assigned college roommate (if you're male) or your weekend blind date (if you're female), who at first has been enormously attractive; polite and even shy, but slightly intimidating in his restrained knowledgeability, decides you are sensitive and trustworthy, and for the rest of the night, over several cups of coffee, tells you his life story richly, seriously and intimately.
It is the story of Carey Mitchell, a teen-age Philadelphia boy whose mother leaves his father, who had a subtle problem with the students at the Main Line women's college where he teaches drama—it's not just steamy fantasy and it's not just cold lechery, but an intelligently depicted combination of the two. The mother takes the boy with her to her new job as a secretary in the American Embassy in Rome. The boy is reluctant to leave behind his piano teacher, who has serious hopes for his musical career, and his first girlfriend, who has just granted him an imcomplete but electrifying encounter with sex.
Suddenly he is in Rome, knowing no one but his mother. He is overwhelmed by grandeur, squalor, grotesqueries; by a new language, a new school; by worry about his abandoned father and anxious mother. As the year progresses, the problems do not diminish but instead become more elaborate. (p. 14)
There are two reasons why the effect of the novel is...
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The Atlantic Monthly
Winter Journey is something like the first trip to Italy that lies at its center: you may think you know the language, and you certainly know that many, many others have made the trip before, but the experience itself is utterly fresh, a little disturbing, and full of unexpected delights. That T. Alan Broughton can handle the well-worn theme of an adolescent's coming of age with such invention is impressive, especially since Winter Journey echoes the concerns of his successful first novel, A Family Gathering….
Winter Journey is written in an easy, graceful prose through which the brilliant dialogue filters like sunlight. While readers may find it a little hard to believe that an education as liberal as Carey's was possible in the early fifties, in which the story is set, the novel's breadth of feeling and evocation of place make it a joy to read.
"Life & Letters: 'Winter Journey'," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright ©1980, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 245, No. 2, February, 1980, p. 96.
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By all odds, Winter Journey should not be a particularly successful novel. Its plot and characters are, on the surface anyway, fairly standard, if not trite. It's the story of a sensitive young man's coming of age, involving a voyage of discovery to—where else?—Rome, his ineffectual father left behind; his romance with a beautiful older woman, his music teacher; a friend who is a misunderstood homosexual; his mother's mysterious Italian lover; a tidy resolution, and so on. Yet, thanks to T. Alan Broughton's considerable talent, these stock elements combine into a moving, finely crafted novel, full of real people about whom the reader comes to care deeply.
Part of the novel's power lies in Broughton's ability to show the emotions of his major characters to be as disturbingly complex as our own: nothing is simple, no one is all good or all evil. Broughton accomplishes this primarily by shifting point of view between characters, particularly between the members of the Mitchell family—Frank, a drama teacher at a woman's college outside Philadelphia; his wife Nancy; and their teen-age son Carey, a promising pianist. He allows things to develop slowly with passages of insight along the way in which the characters in turn mull over events and motives, much as characters in 19th-century novels do.
Frank Mitchell, for example, is a drunk and a philanderer, though not very successful at the latter, writing...
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The New Yorker
["Winter Journey"] takes its title from the Schubert song cycle "Die Winterreise" and recounts the adventures, largely emotional, of an American divorcée, Nancy Mitchell, and her seventeen-year-old son, Carey, a promising concert pianist, during a season in Rome in the early nineteen-fifties. It opens and progresses with every expectation of accomplishment. Mr. Broughton is a writer of considerable style and lyrical ardor. He is also himself a trained pianist (Juilliard), and thus is able to depict the inner responses of a musician, and he convincingly remembers what it is like to be seventeen…. There is much talk, much examining of one another's love affairs, much examining of one's innermost feelings, some diverting sightseeing. And then it all resolves … and dissolves in a sigh and a shrug of romantic rue.
"Briefly Noted: 'Winter Journey'," in The New Yorker (© 1980 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. LVI, No. 1, February 25, 1980, p. 134.
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Gary F. Waller
Winter Journey casts the mind, perhaps inevitably, back to Hawthorne's The Marble Faun: two Americans, seeking respite from masochistic relationships, and encountering aspects of themselves with which, in hope, they return to America…. The setting is Rome, disturbingly rich, "worn and yellowed," its "labyrinths" of intimacy and warmth, contrast sharply with the nervous egocentricity of their American characters. It becomes a subtly changing mirror of their moral discoveries…. (p. 98)
Broughton's interest is primarily psychological not philosophical,… as in his striking first novel, A Family Gathering, he is particularly sensitive to the delicacy of family relationships, especially between children and parents. His observations force the reader into constant self-interrogation, into questions motivated by their urgency rather than the possibility of final solutions: how do we relate the contingent present to our family or cultural roots? How can our family or sexual relationships bear the burden we place upon them in a shifting, unpredictable world? Do we solve our emotional impasses by fleeing them? The novel is full of delicately evoked scenes where such questions occur to the reader. By the end, Nancy and Carey return from the semi-pastoral world of Rome, itself almost a fiction where the characters "go around in circles, acting out again and again, the things" that they must "work out in time," to America,...
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