C(ourtlandt) D(ixon) B(arnes) Bryan Introduction

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

C(ourtlandt) D(ixon) B(arnes) Bryan 1936–

American novelist and nonfiction writer.

Bryan's best known work is Friendly Fire (1976), a journalistic exploration of the circumstances surrounding the death of an American soldier and its effect on the young man's parents. In it, Bryan achieved his goal of demonstrating the disaffection of patriotic Americans that resulted from the Vietnam War. Some critics objected to Bryan's loss of sympathy with the soldier's parents at the end of the book, concluding that Bryan cut short his investigative reporting with an easy acceptance of the military's ambiguous explanation of the death. Nevertheless, critical consensus is that Friendly Fire is a compelling story, skillfully told, as well as a revealing study of the behavior of civilian and military Americans during the Vietnam War era. The book was adapted for television in 1979.

Bryan's novels have received less critical approval. Both his first, P. S. Wilkinson (1965), and the recent Beautiful Women; Ugly Scenes (1983), are autobiographical or confessional novels. In reviews of the earlier work, the story of a young man returning from the Korean War to civilian life on the East Coast, Bryan was praised for his ability to create a scene and to tell a story. Some critics believed, however, that the impact of the work was weakened by the vague characterization of the hero. Critics also note that P. S. Wilkinson is unfocussed—its message obscured by a profusion of detail. Similar objections were echoed in reviews of Bryan's later novels, including The Great Dethriffe, whose characters, though "exhaustively detailed," did not command interest. The detailed descriptions of suburban life and of the inner thoughts of the protagonist that Bryan provided in Beautiful Women; Ugly Scenes drew mixed reactions from critics. While some thought such detail to be an important part of Bryan's conception, others viewed these numerous descriptions as a failure to be discriminating. Several critics also objected to the confessional nature of Beautiful Women; Eliot Fremont-Smith called it "a mixture of boast and plea that is deeply embarrassing."

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-76.)