Mano, D. Keith 1942–
An American novelist and critic, Mano is best known for Bishop's Progress, which, like most of his fiction, reflects his deep concern for the state of Christianity. (See also CLC, Vol. 2, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)
D. Keith Mano's novel, Bishop's Progress …, details the twelve-day wait of Whitney Belknap, famous Episcopalian bishop, for major heart surgery to be performed by Dr. Snow, an equally famous surgeon. The impersonal life of the hospital and Dr. Snow contrast with the bishop's concern for Love in his book, A God for Our Time, but the bishop, though trying to relate to others, is as impersonal and loveless as his scientific counterparts. The twelve days become tedious before they are over, and the bishop's leaving the hospital before the performance of surgery, though intended to be a noble gesture, seems foolhardy. (p. 365)
Prairie Schooner (© 1969 by University of Nebraska Press; reprinted by permission from Prairie Schooner), Winter, 1968–69.
Horn is set in the future, at a time when Black militancy is strong. Harlem is run by George Horn Smith, a Negro who has a freakish eleven-inch horn jutting from his forehead, and who, according to his autobiography, tackled incredible adversity before becoming middleweight champion of the world and, finally, a leader of the Black revolution in the United States. The narrative is provided by Calvin Beecher Pratt, a mild, fat, understandably frightened Episcopalian priest, who elects to take a parish in Harlem after reading of Horn's life. The stand-off between these two men—their crass dissimilarity—provides Mr. Mano's theme, which is to show that, despite everything, they are not so unalike.
There are some very clever things in Horn: the high rhetoric and gaucherie of Horn's autobiography (excerpts are slotted, rather leadenly, into Pratt's narrative) is well judged, occupying a position somewhere between the embarrassing and the frightening. Similarly, John Meeker, a priest also, and a Harlem veteran, is finely characterized as a liberal whose desire for identification with and acceptance by, the black population of Harlem has pushed him to almost psychotic extremes; and Pratt's fear of physical violence—and his ultimate subjection to it—is conveyed with a fitting intensity and tells us as much about the potential hatred of a tormented race for its persecutors as about Pratt's personal timidity.
The book's length, though, proves a major drawback. There is too much space for the tension to spread into, and become absorbed; too often, this is what happens. (p. 642)
The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1970; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), June 11, 1970.
Colonel Mint provides a pleasant donnée: an astronaut in action sees an angel and says so. Most of the novel concentrates on the torments subsequently invented to force him to recant. One can surmise why the author might have thought it funny: long ago men suffered for their divergences from religious faith; now the state's destruction of deviants is as certain as the Inquisition's; such parallel and reversal is the stuff of comedy…. This is supposed to be an "extravagant comic novel," but the experience of reading it is simply depressing. For one thing, there's the quality of the prose: "I know who you think I am. A handy man, that's all. Husband, father—dead from the neck up. But I'm more than that. Shit, shit, yes. You want me to be like all the rest of them." And the quality of the mind behind it, manipulative, exploiting the sensational, apparently devoid of serious thought. (pp. 503-04)
Patricia Meyer Spacks, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1972 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXV, No. 3, Autumn, 1972.
Mano is still a writer of more promise than achievement. His strengths are energy, earnestness and a tough intelligence. But he is a stiff writer, not especially imaginative, and his overdrawn characters tend to be mere mouthpieces for ideas.
Part of Mano's success may stem from a frankly religious outlook. In these cynical, pragmatic times, nearly everyone is eager to admire religious faith—particularly if it is someone else's. Mano, an Episcopalian, is a specifically Christian novelist. In his books, God is a respected familiar; eternity is a definite place on the map. There is always an old-fashioned metaphysical confrontation. In his first novel, Bishop's Progress, the bishop and a surgeon angrily reshuffle old arguments about Christian charity. In Horn, a priest and a black leader dispute ethics. Now, in the new book [The Bridge], a fashionable venture into futurism, the author yokes a world-weary priest and a profane Noah who repopulated a ravaged world.
The Bridge is set in New York State a millennium hence, with a prologue and epilogue that occur 600 years beyond that. These short sections show a society struggling back to some kind of sufficiency after the human race has committed mass suicide during the Age of Ecology. Though comfort is meager and government insanely harsh, man is glorified as the Lord of Creation.
Excepting science fiction, novels set in the future almost always turn out to be traps for writers. Mano may have intended to make some comment on the tyranny of liberalism—or ecology—run wild, but he fails to get beyond the mechanical business of detailing the societies he envisions…. Mano has always been obsessed by the functions and malfunctions of the body, but in earlier works like The Life and Death of Harry Goth, his prose has been funnier and more focused. In the new book he finally runs out of energy, one quality he never seemed to lack before.
Martha Duffy, "Lost Worlds," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc. 1973), September 10, 1973, p. 91.
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