E(sther) M(asserman) Broner Adele Z. Silver - Essay

Adele Z. Silver

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The title story in [Journal/Nocturnal and Seven Stories] could have been written only on an American college campus within the last few years. It is the story of an antiwar professor, called the Husband, and his unhappy Wife. He is heartsick over Vietnam, immersed in protest activities; she stuffs envelopes like a good helpmeet, but her heart is concerned with its private pains. Their friend, the Guest, not only is remote from protest politics but intellectually supports the war. The Guest moves in and wages his own guerrilla battles in the Wife's bedroom. He does even better than the Vietcong….

Whether the Wife is attracted more by the Guest's sexual agility or by his political rigidity is never made clear; both seem to refresh her equally. This new twist—the protesting professor as cuckold—could be rich material for a satirist, but E. M. Broner does not use it with any irony….

The topicality of the plot and the irritating namelessness of its characters smother the story's real artistic interest, the parched soul of the Wife. She is empty—"Her mind and days are full of unoccupied benches"—until the Guest invades her like a dybbuk. Then she is guilty, lustful, restless, separated finally from reality. The passages in "Nocturnal" where the Wife, in a third-person anguish, explores her spiritual unease are Mrs. Broner's successes. She has a supple style and handles poetic images more naturally than...

(The entire section is 486 words.)