Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 467
Maxine Kumin is part of a major generation of American poets, those born in the 1920’s and early 1930’s who reached maturity after World War II. Because of the rise of the United States to the status of world power, it was believed that American literature should be promoted to...
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Maxine Kumin is part of a major generation of American poets, those born in the 1920’s and early 1930’s who reached maturity after World War II. Because of the rise of the United States to the status of world power, it was believed that American literature should be promoted to a level adequate to such a power. Therefore, young writers who came to prominence were encouraged to further their literary careers. This encouragement meant that writers were free to experiment in the quest for new and interesting forms and meanings. Many writers who were primarily poets, for example, assayed the novel form as well. When Kumin turned to fiction in the mid-1960’s, it seemed as if she was joining this club. Yet Kumin’s novels are different from such works of fiction by poets as Galway Kinnell’s Black Light (1966), John Ashbery and James Schuyler’s A Nest of Ninnies (1969), and James Merrill’s The (Diblos) Notebook (1965). These novels were all self-consciously avant-garde, and their prose had many of the poetic qualities of their authors’ verse compositions. Kumin sought to use the novel more as a device for social comment and cultural change. As a consequence, her fiction is almost deliberately unpoetic in its presentation. The prose is taut, and the setting is contemporary. Even in The Passions of Uxport (1968), a novel with a more traditional domestic setting than The Abduction, Kumin writes not with rhetorical eloquence, but in wry observation and reportage. This is an emphatic difference from Kumin’s poetry, which describes natural settings in a romantic vein influenced by Kumin’s feminism and her consciousness of her position as a woman writer. There is little pastoral reverie in The Abduction, however, and even less romanticism. Kumin, in attempting to find aesthetic models indigenous to the novel as a genre, renounced her most characteristic gifts.
Yet the novel is not, as a result, impoverished or thesis-ridden. While perpetually conscious of the filtering craft of Kumin’s novelistic hand, the reader comes to experience the dilemmas of the two main characters, Lucy and Theodore, with a starkness unusual in contemporary fiction. Kumin employs an economy of means to create an ascetic but riveting drama of a woman testing the borderlines of her soul and of a young boy striving to feel his own personal capacity and power. The book’s most praiseworthy achievement is the way in which it explores issues of psychology and politics without subordinating either field of experience to the other. Lucy’s emotional distress is not exclusively a social symptom, nor are her social concerns merely expressions of personal angst. Kumin speaks equally well to both domains. Although she will doubtless be remembered above all for her poetry, The Abduction will survive as a memorable paradigm of the novelist’s art.