C(ourtlandt) D(ixon) B(arnes) Bryan John Knowles - Essay

John Knowles

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The prolonged education and futile-seeming military service young American men must pass through before beginning to call their lives their own are effectively dramatized in "P. S. Wilkinson."…

C.D.B. Bryan, who won the Harper Prize with this first novel, begins showing this frustrating, drawn-out ordeal in—appropriately—post-truce Korea, where Wilkinson is an exasperated intelligence officer….

Young Wilkinson turns and turns at the center of his problems. He does not know what he wants to do with his life; he cannot "communicate"; he is moving from idealism to cynicism without ever touching realism. His affairs with girls are unstable and subject to abrupt terminations by him; he is lonely….

[Much] of "P. S. Wilkinson" may … be autobiographical. That would be irrelevant were it not that the chief shortcoming of the novel is one that occurs so often in fiction which is closely autobiographical: the central character is out of focus, seen in uneven proportion and depth and somewhat faceless. Photographing oneself is difficult.

For example, Mr. Bryan's central character tells us that he is in despair, but he only seems exasperated; exasperation is a useful emotion only in comedy, not in serious fiction. Wilkinson is all caught up with himself, and so he doesn't really catch us. He achieves life only when the force of the episode is coming strongly from outside...

(The entire section is 429 words.)