Barbara Wersba Doris Orgel - Essay

Doris Orgel

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Let Me Fall Before I Fly a boy watches a make-believe circus] for hours on end in the grass, until he knows each feature of every performer by heart. And the more he grows to love the circus, the farther he drifts from his own, the real, world.

Then comes a storm. The circus disappears. Now both the child and the book are in terrible trouble. For the child has "lost the desire to live." And the book is up against the single subject which, to my mind, cannot be dealt with in children's literature—namely, total, unrelieved despair.

At this point the child's parents and a doctor intervene. They restore the child to normality, unconvincingly so. Meantime some highly questionable speculations have been made concerning the link between genius and alienation. Finally a resolution is attempted in the form of a dream in which the child, no longer passive spectator, takes part himself in his beloved circus. But the symbolism fails. If the circus is supposed to be the work of art, then to describe it as "both image and reality, fact and dream, fiction and longing," only adds to the confusion. And the child, who is supposed to be the artist, is still as faceless as he has been nameless all along. Functioning neither as individual nor as symbol, he remains, in the author's own words, "distant, peculiar, vague" throughout. So does the book.

Doris Orgel, in a review of "Let Me Fall Before I Fly," in The New York Times Book Review, October 17, 1971, p. 8.