Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The multifaceted Janoth Enterprises, manufacturing truth tailor-made for the masses, is based in part on Kenneth Fearing’s experiences in the years he worked as a staff writer at Time magazine. Through his jaded discussion of Janoth Enterprises magazines providing decisions, reasoning, and judgments for the masses, Fearing creates a scathing commentary on modern journalism. At magazines such as Crimeways, the staff manipulates the truth, creates the standard logic, and influences the public with a frightening power. By looking behind the doors of a fictional media empire, Fearing gives the reader an inside look at who is determining the generally accepted truth, and the picture is by no means an attractive one.

Thriller writing was essentially a sideline for Fearing, who wrote mysteries and journalism to subsidize his poetry. Nevertheless, The Big Clock is a classic of suspense writing that rises above the standards of the genre. Its use of symbolism is impressive, and it is burdened with neither the clichéd characters nor the stereotypical plot lines of most noir fiction. The speed of its narrative, the intriguing technique of multiple viewpoints in chapter format, the tight dialogue, and the steady inexorable movement toward doom—these are all the elements of superior fiction. The novel is also a compelling documentary of the corporate world of 1940’s New York City—a lifestyle of cigarettes, alcohol, and apparently easy living masking roiling tensions. The sharpness and cynicism of modern life are etched by Fearing as if with a razor.