Andrew Lytle John Farrelly - Essay

John Farrelly

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"A Name for Evil" is a ghost story. A man and his wife plan to renovate a dilapidated old plantation house, but before long the man senses a hostile influence in the place…. The story is the struggle between … man and ghost for possession of the house.

There are good things in the book. The oppressive atmosphere of the ruined country is appropriate to the events of the story, and the incidents are skillfully disposed to build suspense. But the "horror" is described rather than conveyed, and is not sufficiently associated with the commonplace which would beguile the reader's attention and assist his credulity…. [Therefore] the inexplicable soon becomes the merely inexpressible.

But I think the real flaw in the story is caused by Lytle's intentions as a novelist. As I make out, they are more serious and complex than are appropriate for this sort of tale. A ghost story must always be something of a tour de force, a contrived machinery for definite and limited effects. Moral evil, if it appears, is part of the machinery, making perhaps for added intensity. But Lytle brings to it the critical attitude of a "serious novelist," and means, apparently, to say more about Life and Death and Ruin than he has given himself occasion for. In the absence of any human motives and action, his implications sound too much like pronouncements in a void.

John Farrelly, "Ghost Story," in The New Republic, Vol. 117, No. 8, August 25, 1947, p. 31.