Ernest K(ellogg) Gann John Brooks - Essay

John Brooks

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In "Fiddler's Green"] a young San Francisco dope peddler named Bruno Felkin, having murdered an underworld rival, accidentally comes aboard the Taaga. Later, finding himself some miles at sea with the boat's captain and his son, Bruno decides that this is a good place to hide out, and he signs on as a crew member. The story adumbrates Bruno's relationship with the captain's son, a fisherman who would rather be a dope peddler, and with the sea, which eventually conquers both of the young men, in its own way.

As story or theme, this suggestive material is handled with less skill and suppleness than it deserves. Bruno Felkin … is plausible enough as a small-time criminal. At sea, however, he fails to achieve the stature that Mr. Gann seems to have intended for him; he is not and never will be Ishmael. The land-bound characters … are only routine detective-fiction characters. The novel, too, has a serious technical flaw: continually insistent on plot, it nevertheless includes a series of vignettes of characters who never touch the story and therefore serve to confuse the reader.

The best of "Fiddler's Green" is its picture of the fishing life. It is intriguing to see how the author's interest perks up, how his style takes on a new cadence, every time his story moves out from the wharf to the open sea…. Unfortunately, Mr. Gann never settled whether he was telling a melodramatic story or painting a picture.

John Brooks, "Wind, Waves and Fog," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1950 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 28, 1950, p. 5.