C(ourtlandt) D(ixon) B(arnes) Bryan Time - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The protagonist of P. S. Wilkinson] is tedious, self-pitying, unsufferably sensitive, and a prig. He did not enjoy his Army service in Korea. He also does not enjoy the company of his father, memories of school, sex, lack of sex, working in a bank, or much else. Other characters, some of whom might have been interesting, are perceived only by a kind of melancholic sonar: Wilkinson sends out waves of gloom that bounce off the other people in the book and return to him as angst amplified.

Since this is exactly as dreary as it sounds, the reader may wonder why Harper & Row gave its 1965 Harper Prize to the book. Oddly enough, the award seems a good bet. Bryan is not a vivid writer, but—the character of Wilkinson aside—he is a sound one. His scenes do not sting, but the reader sees them clearly. Time after time in the novel, there is a feeling that if Wilkinson would only go home and soak his head, the party might still develop into something. Bryan's writing suggests the early work of Louis Auchincloss—competent, intelligent, flawed occasionally by pomposity. This year's Harper Prize was given, clearly, for novels that Bryan has not yet written. (p. 114)

"A Prize Case of Angst," in Time (copyright 1965 Time Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission from Time), Vol. 85, No. 6, February 5, 1965, pp. 112, 114.