Ernest K(ellogg) Gann Taliaferro Boatwright - Essay

Taliaferro Boatwright

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Toward the middle of Ernest K. Gann's artful and satirical new novel one of his characters, a dissolute journalist, cries out: "My job is to write about the creation of the most vicious, insulting slap in the face that God has ever received from the hand of man!" In a sense, this is just what the author himself has done. For "The Trouble With Lazy Ethel," which is built around the preparations for a thermonuclear explosion at a remote atoll in the Pacific, is really a look at the people who are creating that slap. And its climax is a demonstration that the hand of God is mightier by far than the works of man….

Around the halting love affair between Adam and Margaret, the fumbling efforts of Pike to bring military order out of what he regards as chaos, and an off-again on-again visit by [Hurricane] Lazy Ethel, Ernest Gann has woven a warm, comic, and continuously interesting story, compounded of misunderstandings, mistakes in judgment, honest but misguided effort, but, finally, in crisis, decision.

"The Trouble With Lazy Ethel" can be read as a portrait of Americans in a home away from home…. If so, it is a remarkably clear one, free from the bombast and sentimentality that seem to cloud many of our self-appraisals. Though in no wise an overt criticism, it is also a comment on man's temerity in conducting nuclear tests. Best of all, it is at all times a good story. Ernest Gann has the precious gift of narrative skill, and he exercises it to the fullest.

Taliaferro Boatwright, "In Which a Hurricane Comes Calling," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), September 28, 1958, p. 5.