Craig Nova 1945–
Reviews of Nova's first two novels, Turkey Hash (1972) and The Geek (1975), were mixed. Set on the seamy side of Los Angeles and on a barbaric Greek island, respectively, the two books focus on the lurid and vulgar aspects of life while maintaining a lighthearted manner. Critics called Nova's writing style technically proficient and witty, but some contended that his characters were not sufficiently developed. Incandescence (1979) elicited similar comments. Again the focus is on a down-and-out protagonist who participates in a series of bizarre incidents but does not change or grow over the course of the novel. Critics agreed that Nova did not assist the reader in understanding his characters and used imagery and metaphors which were irrelevant to his themes and story line.
Nova's novel The Good Son (1982) is a departure from his earlier works both stylistically and in subject matter. Critics have unreservedly praised this work for its fully developed characters and engaging story. An upper-class family estate is the setting for a father-son power struggle which parallels the thematic conflict between passion and discipline. The novel is narrated by eight different characters and critics concluded that Nova handled this difficult technique well.
(See also CLC, Vol. 7; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 45-48; and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 2.)
[The Geek] belongs to a distinct but elusive Anglo-American genre, which includes a lot of Hemingway, Lowry's Under the Volcano, and a good deal of John Hawkes: that form of fiction which pits a solitary Anglo-Saxon against an ancient, alien, and violent culture….
There is something too cryptic about a lot of the novel's transactions, a suggestion of dialogue out of Henry James shifted to a dusty taverna, and, as I say, the writing keeps reaching for effects that are more than a little lurid. But the blending of emblematic and literal truth … is remarkable. The specificity of the island landscape, the clear characters and past history of the individual islanders, the careful tracing of Boot's reactions to separate events, all help to pitch The Geek somewhere between reality and nightmare, as if it were a dream that had found its own geography in the material world, or a familiar piece of geography that had toppled into a dream. Boot, the double exile, drunk and alien, fills out his fiction … and his Greek island will stand for many places where men of honor, beaten down by craftier antagonists and their own fatigue, have given up the ghost and subsided into humiliation. (p. 11)
Michael Wood, "Crying for Attention," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXIII, No. 10, June 10, 1976, pp. 8, 10-11.∗
The bizarre happenings in The Geek are set on a Greek island in a Gothick atmosphere of unexplained death, unmotivated violence and heavily charged sex. A sandy-haired American called Boot drinks immense quantities of beer and ouzo and finds a dead girl on a beach. A patchy-bearded monk called Lukas dreams 'of a hymen tearing with the sound of a ripping sheet'. An opium-smuggler seduces a 14-year-old girl who gives off a 'crystalline' smell. The sea is 'glassine'. Craig Nova has a feel for heat and sweat and blood and dust, but clarity and character are lost in an un-Aegean fog. On the last page, Boot bites off the head of a live chicken and thinks: 'I'm not even curious whether it was a matter of loss or victory.' By then, my own curiosity had evaporated, too.
John Mellors, "Stern Stuff," in The Listener, Vol. 96, No. 2485, November 25, 1976, p. 688.∗
Mr. Nova's men are out solo; they stumble along grim coastlines against which they seek nothing but to destroy themselves brightly—which seems only natural, amid the stench of hydrocarbons.
The world of "Incandescence," however, is considerably more hospitable than that of Mr. Nova's earlier novels, "The Geek" … and "Turkey Hash." Most of the action takes place in "the dark furrows of New York."…
Mr. Nova has never been...
(The entire section is 4,157 words.)