A. G. Mojtabai Mojtabai, A(nn) G(race) (Vol. 9) - Essay

Mojtabai, A(nn) G(race) (Vol. 9)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mojtabai, A(nn) G(race) 1938–

Mojtabai is an American novelist. (See also CLC, Vol. 5.)

Did you read, and if you did, have you been able to forget "Mundome," A. G. Mojtabai's first novel?… "Mundome" made a small critical splash and then sank into the customary oceanic depths reserved for promising but unspectacular first novels….

["The 400 Eels of Sigmund Freud"] bears no resemblance in subject matter to the first [novel]. Where its sibling relationship is evident is in its fine, reserved, simple prose which also distinguished the first book. Mojtabai is able to make a kind of verbal mezzotint out of such materials as the death of a mad woman's parrot…. (p. 7)

The novel works well, and if it is not quite the full-bodied performance that A. G. Mojtabai seems on the verge of presenting us with, it is still, in its alembic form, a fine, intelligent and moving work. (p. 8)

Doris Grumbach, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 30, 1976.

[A] summer community of high-school trainees dedicated to the ideals of scientific humanism is the subject of … The Four Hundred Eels of Sigmund Freud…. Despite the title, the founding father is mentioned only once….

A witty and tantalizingly subtle portrait of derangement, Mundome was a brilliant début. [Mojtabai's] second novel, though superbly controlled and perceptive, is also more predictable, a highly polished performance without the vitality and astonishment of Mundome….

[Somehow] the novel doesn't have the tragic resonance that Mojtabai has aimed for. Her eye for the pretensions and sweetness, the cosmic yearning and disorderly intelligence of the precocious young is acute but also rather chilly…. Mrs. Mojtabai is spare and cryptically suggestive to a fault. In her ruthless trimming of anything that smacks of fatty excess, she has also shorn away some of the living tissue as indispensable to her story as the eels of Sigmund Freud. (p. 16)

Pearl K. Bell, in The New Leader (© 1976 by the American Labor Conference on International Affairs, Inc.), June 7, 1976.

Science's dream of Utopia is blind to the most urgent needs of human beings. A sensitive child will be brutalized at an authoritarian school. These themes, you say, have for a century or so been overworked in fiction, but A. G. Mojtabai does not agree with you. She exercises both in ["The 400 Eels of Sigmund Freud"]. (p. 93)

Mojtabai's story is all prelude to a crisis or a moral greater than the tired one she produces. A dreadful competence suffuses her novel when what was needed is punch, brilliance or originality. Unwilling or unable to create a situation that is truly harrowing or resonant, she attempts to compensate by underlining her characters' fatigued perceptions: "The real trouble was that nobody, but nobody, in that madhouse had any sense of humor." Perhaps her story might have been tauter had she limited her perspective to one … point of view. By giving us everybody's musings she has made a short novel seem far too long. (pp. 93-4)

Peter S. Prescott, "Prelude to Crisis," in Newsweek (copyright 1976 by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), June 7, 1976, pp. 93-4.

[In The 400 Eels of Sigmund Freud] the writing is good enough to create a final dissatisfaction with the novel, which seems to promise more than it gives. Looking for emblematic truth by means of concrete occasion, A. G. Mojtabai ends up with a beautifully caught occasion which is slightly too concrete to carry any distance beyond itself, too full of mice and science and what looks like autobiographical reminiscence. It is not enough to make an emblem, it makes only a delicate story rather thinly clothed in implications. (p. 10)

Michael Wood, in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; copyright © 1976 NYREV, Inc.), June 10, 1976.

["The 400 Eels of Sigmund Freud"] opens with all signs pointing in the direction of the gothic…. But although there is a bit of violence toward the end of the book, that's not where it ends up at all—to the extent that it ends up anywhere. As in the author's first novel, "Mundome," it is once again human nature facing a dead end that seems to fascinate her…. The book simmers along like a savory stew, with various interesting people … surfacing briefly and then disappearing. But nothing comes together very much, and whereas "Mundome" had a mysterious, disturbing quality about it, this one seems merely unthought-out and disconnected. (p. 84)

The New Yorker (© 1976 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), July 5, 1976.