Dan Wakefield

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Wakefield, Dan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Wakefield, Dan 1932–

Wakefield is an American novelist and short story writer, and the author of highly regarded nonfiction works on vital current issues. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)

I know Dan Wakefield slightly. He is a modest, shy, softspoken young man who has been gifted with the greatest endowment a journalist can have—curiosity. He has his full share, too, of the next most important talents—a love of people unstained by sentimentality, and a disciplined capacity for indignation.

Wakefield's first book … Island in the City: The World of Spanish Harlem … is a report, highly personal in tone, of the life led by thousands of New Yorkers who, for multiple reasons, are as cut off from the blessings of American affluence as the fellahin of Egypt. The report is personal in tone because before Dan Wakefield wrote the story he went to live in Harlem….

Until something better comes along, Wakefield's report must stand as the last word on Spanish Harlem….

Dan Wakefield does not preach or suggest a program of action. He does what a good reporter should do—he reports.

John Cogley, "Cut Off from the Main," in Commonweal (copyright © 1959 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), March 6, 1959, p. 599.

As one of our very best journalists in the past decade, Dan Wakefield has been conspicuous for two virtues: a novelist's instinct for the right detail, the gesture or glance which can tell more than a thousand words of interpretation; and then something even rarer, an intimate, yet never merely egocentric, scale of observation. He has always tried to maintain the tone of a personal deposition, and like his hero, Thoreau, "speak as a man in his waking moments to other men in their waking moments." At the same time, unlike the similarly ambitious Norman Mailer, he has avoided rhetorical boom and self-idolatry. He is closer to another of his heroes, Murray Kempton, and at least two of his reportorial collections, "Between the Lines" and "Supernation at Peace and War," are handbooks no young man or woman dreaming of a career in journalism should be without.

In his first novel, "Going All the Way," he remains a sure observer. Again and again, there are tableaux of root Americana that are as certain and exact as so many Goya etchings: middle-aged salesmen carousing in a bar, a Moral Rearmament pep-talk, Sanforized newlyweds displaying the heir to their prefabricated ranch house, a countryclub poolside. Around them flows a passionate and tormented novel about the summer of 1954 as it transpired in the lives of two young Korean War veterans returning to their Indianapolis homes. To say that it is a very American story is true enough, but it would be more relevant to say that it is going to become even more so. Its central subject—the baffled despair of young men trying to reckon with middle class, material values in a world where they no longer suffice—is only beginning to emerge in our Gross National Consciousness. Next year, and the year after that, "Going All the Way" will seem even more pertinent than it does now.

Meantime, it is possible that the current publishing season will produce no book more urgently felt. The story-telling itself is trim and efficient, but there is a vulnerable, even homely "expense of spirit" on every page. Dan Wakefield has read Salinger, and the influence is sometimes very strong, but the feelings are stronger still, and altogether his own. (p. 7)

Robert Phelps, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 9, 1970.

Dan Wakefield has a way of choosing the middle-class metaphor for an era. In "Going All the Way" it was 1950s bewilderment. Two guys came home to Indianapolis from the army and wondered what to do with themselves. In "Starting Over" it's divorce, splitting up, coping. What could be more appropriate for the schizoid 1970s?…

"Going All the Way" was a period piece, nearly...

(The entire section is 1,412 words.)