Andrew Lytle Robert O. Bowen - Essay

Robert O. Bowen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Velvet Horn"] has a ranging profundity and rich life found in current American fiction only in a Southern setting. Only the South offers a people bound to living history through crossed lines of blood and name, through the land that bred them, the falling forests and the barrening cotton and cattle fields of the drought years. Against this setting Lytle's powerful sense of a folk creates in a reader a sadness, a poignancy for that richer time and place: the upper South following the Civil War. (p. 13)

In the hands of a lesser writer some of the turgid passion of the narrative would be melodramatic. Lytle's deep insight has justified the tragic truth beneath each violent act. The old feud that Lucius feels in his bastard blood … is more than family enmity; it is the untamed hunter's being driven by the very land to live within fenced lines, and beyond that toward a life where that land must merge with the outer world if its people are to survive. Through the entire book runs a vein of stoic and enduring hope for the people whose faith lies in the lasting earth.

Lytle's lyric prose resembles Faulkner's, though it is likely that the similarity indicates a common source rather than a borrowing. Where in Faulkner a character's rich emotive memories rush out with a hypnotic tremolo, in Lytle such passages fall toward either the haunting cadence of the folk ballad or the declamatory rhetoric of a Lear. Jack Cropleigh, the major speaker in "The Velvet Horn," is highly Shakespearean in his drunken philosophizing, and in the main his speech is a successful device. Nevertheless, at times the effort to poeticize a scene is overdone, and again one is sometimes troubled by too near a lofty tone from various characters. But these are trifles.

All in all, this is a solid, moving, and readable book set in the Southern agrarian tradition of which Mr. Lytle has so long been a part. (p. 14)

Robert O. Bowen, "Sons of the Soil," in The Saturday Review, New York (copyright © 1957 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XL, No. 33, August 17, 1957, pp. 13-14.