Alvah Bessie The Christian Science Monitor - Essay

The Christian Science Monitor

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Dwell in the Wilderness"] is a long novel, chronicling the history of an average middle-class family from 1876 to 1925….

Together with the disintegration of the home of Eben and Amelia, the book follows the fortunes of their children…. These unhappy, intertwining lives are placed against a shifting background of Chicago, Detroit, New York and Philadelphia, presenting a panorama of changing American city life during the past few decades.

It is a one-sided picture, however, and a continually unpleasant one. Mr. Bessie has a fluent style, and a gift for creating living characters but his unceasing pessimism makes his work often unpalatable. He is preoccupied here with the gloomy side of material life, with hate, sensuality, fanaticism, vulgarity and weakness. His individual style and narrative skill, with his indubitable sincerity, compensate to a degree for the dreariness of his subject matter, but he is too much like Coleridge's atheist, who closes his eyes and calls it night.

Mr. Bessie's book is too often merely a savage indictment against the contentious woman of Amelia's type, who brings desolation into a home. He portrays, too, the futility of the lives of those people who drift aimlessly on turbid waters tossed by hate, bewilderment and weakness. This second indictment, against a society where such things are nurtured, has at best only the negative value of a warning.

"House Built upon Sand," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1935 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), August 19, 1935, p. 14.