T(homas) Alan Broughton Essay - Critical Essays

Broughton, T(homas) Alan

Introduction

Jerome Charyn

"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.

Sheldon Frank

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.

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.

John Leonard

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).

John Casey

[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...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

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...

(The entire section is 170 words.)

Susan Wood

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...

(The entire section is 533 words.)

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...

(The entire section is 149 words.)

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,...

(The entire section is 273 words.)