Alvah Bessie Jonathan Sharp - Essay

Jonathan Sharp

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Alvah Bessie's latest novel [One for My Baby], perhaps his best work since the classic Men in Battle (1939), delves into the midnight world of the intimate nightclub "network" (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Francisco) of the 1950s, a world in which the most telling social criticism of the day was delivered by stand-up "comics," to the shock and dismay of many and the amusement of most….

[One for My Baby is] a funny/sad, at times savage, and ultimately compassionate tale of the "clowns, sweethearts, walking wounded, genuine artists, and pinheads" who people the Night Box, located in San Francisco's North Beach area….

Bessie's purpose is to provide a "slice of life" continuum based on the interaction of characters—headliners, hangers-on, and others—that in many respects were typical of the denizens of a 1950s nightclub….

[It] is hoped that this highly gifted writer (and master of "comedian" comment in fiction) will continue to work at his craft.

One for My Baby is an excellent example of this craft, and should be read by all who are interested in American literature and recent American social history. And the reader will be doubly rewarded if a reading of this fine book leads him/her back to earlier works of one of our finest writers.

Jonathan Sharp, "'One for My Baby'," in San Francisco Review of Books (copyright © by the San Francisco Review of Books 1981), January-February, 1981, p. 16.