E(sther) M(asserman) Broner James R. Frakes - Essay

James R. Frakes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I find much to admire in Mrs. Broner's "Journal/Nocturnal"—wit, honest poignancy, psychological accuracy, a daring attempt to combine the ancient subject of adultery with contemporary issues—but I sense a distortion of organic shape, an over-extension of emotional drive.

Mrs. Broner has further tortured the reader's response by choosing a most unusual format. The story is printed in two columns, one headed "Journal (the eye's mind)" and the other "Nocturnal (the mind's eye)." The "Journal" is written in the first person by an over-civilized wife and mother as a kind of open diary. The "Nocturnal" is told in the third person as secret revelation—presenting a problem in reading skills that not even McLuhan has considered.

Neither tricky nor self-indulgent, this device is nonetheless irritating and harmful to Mrs. Broner's striking talents, best illustrated in such more traditional short stories as "The Enemies" (an Arab salesman in a Jewish neighborhood infiltrated by Negroes), "The Schva" (a black woman's salty report of what it's like to be a guest at Jewish parties), and especially in the six-part "The New Nobility," which crackles with truth about the new concepts of honor and honesty of those under 30.

James R. Frakes, "Density Clarified: 'Journall Nocturnal'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 29, 1968, p. 56.