Garrett, George 1929–
Garrett is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, critic, and editor. He is noted for his technical control of many fictional forms and for his masterful storytelling. (See also CLC, Vol. 3, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
George Garrett is a mature writer—Do, Lord, Remember Me is his third novel, his fifth book of fiction—and the fruits of his long apprenticeship are apparent here. (p. 160)
It may not be possible to end this kind of book in a manner that is thoroughly satisfactory…. [His] conclusion seems a little thin, if only from a technical viewpoint…. [But this is a minor complaint when] balanced against Garrett's overall performance. Telling his story largely from a series of first person points of view, he remains totally in control of his material. He uses flashbacks and passages of psychological probing with effective restraint, and his people are Southern and funny sometimes, but they are never caricatures and they are never lugubrious. And even if the handling of [the death of Smalley, the novel's protagonist,] is not technically perfect, the meaning is clear. Evil is redeemed through dissolution and pain. And it is only redeemed. It is not effaced or even assuaged, this side of Paradise. (p. 161)
Walter Sullivan, in Sewanee Review (reprinted by permission of the editor; © 1964 by The University of the South), Winter, 1964.
George Garrett would seem to share with Juvenal an appreciation of the virtues of the backwater, an admiration for simple loyalties, and a propensity for what Winston Churchill called the harsh laugh of the soldier. (p. 308)
Mr. Garrett is a Southerner who, after having lived in other places and countries, has decided to live in the South, and has committed himself to his native region in fact as well as in name…. He does not, as perhaps he should not, attempt to explicate the principles on which he takes his stand, but he is very clear as to what he does not accept…. As a poet Mr. Garrett is committed not to ideas nor abstract concepts, but to a place and its people.
Mr. Garrett has chosen to stand on familiar ground. He is not unconscious of his task to give shape to and if necessary to defend the views of his region as he sees it in the present. Acceptance of the present seems to be central to his position. He does not dwell on the past at all. At the same time he also exemplifies that prise de conscience of men of letters signalized by Baudelaire's proclamation of "ma blessure", since which the locus of the struggle has been at least partly in the artist himself. Thus a recurrent theme in these poems is the need to recognize one's own imperfection, one's own disfigurement…. The poet also accepts the occasional ignominy and the contumely not infrequently the lot of the artist in our time, not infrequently, he suggests, deserved. Yet Mr. Garrett is not cut off from others; he is not lonely nor isolated …, for as a Southerner he is always aware of the society of which he is a part. He perceives the social fabric and his place in it with a sense that never sleeps. (pp. 309-10)
He calls his book For a Bitter Season , and with justice. It is singular for its compassion and affection for others. His laughter is sometimes wry, and sometimes reminiscent of Francois Villon…. Man is flawed by his vanity, his inconsistency, his blindness in love, his folly, his death. The poet accepts these things and accepts the place in...
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which he finds himself and has chosen to be, but without abandoning hope—"we have lived too long with fear"—for out of these things and this place grow his poems, his children, and all the things he loves. The place he lives in may sometimes most resemble a compost heap, but he loves it for what grows in it. (p. 310)
Mr. Garrett's interest in all that goes on around him is mirrored in the variety of his poems. He does not disdain the trivial. On the contrary, he seems to have a special affection for, and shows much of his humor and gaiety, in the poems he has deliberately made to be throwaways. They are not properly in the category of light verse, because in them one senses that the poet's intention is to say, "Let's not be so solemn, let's not write every line as though it were imperishable when we know very well that much of our verse, all of it perhaps, will, like ourselves, perish very soon." They serve to remind us that any poet's best efforts owe much to the countless other poems that have been written by him and discarded along the way; owe much to the poems that have been written by others, too. (pp. 310-11)
In ["Egyptian Gold", a] poem about the pickpockets of Rome, and in "Crows at Paestum", Mr. Garrett's gifts show to their best advantage. Both poems move effortlessly from the simple (often for Mr. Garrett at least faintly ridiculous) to the sublime. In both, on the deserted hillside overlooking Paestum and in the crowded Roman piazza, the poet sees himself as part of the teeming present and the speaking past. He yearns for no more perfect state of affairs. He eyes the present with all its imperfections and leaves the reader in no doubt about what he approves and what he does not. It is plain that he has known the loneliness and estrangement men experience in a mechanized society. Knowing the metropolis and its undeniable importance for the artist, he has elected to live in and write out of his own country where men are loved or hated as men and not as fleeting abstractions. (p. 311)
F. H. Griffin Taylor, in Sewanee Review (reprinted by permission of the editor; © 1969 by The University of the South), Spring, 1969.
Death of the Fox is splendid, a magnificent book, and very probably one of the dozen best novels to have been written in my lifetime. Indeed, it is so extraordinary a work that it raises certain questions about the history and the future of the novel itself, about the relation of the novelist to his public, and about the ultimate mysteries of Fame and Fortune which lie not only at the heart of this novel but at the heart of the experience of all of us. (p. 277)
The technical excellence of both [The Finished Man and Which Ones Are The Enemy?], the wit, the appeal were as irrelevant as the eloquent need of some poor sucker who buys his lottery ticket and sits back to wait for the big money. Each of them was a good book in its way. The Finished Man was a more than usually ingratiating first novel about Florida politics and—perhaps—Garrett's father. Which Ones Are The Enemy? was a novel about army life in Trieste—where Garrett served—and was more polished, more authoritative in its tone, surer in its technical aspects, richer…. Really, a damned good book. In each case, however, the bright pebble of experience that Garrett was weaving into his nest of ironies and clarities was important to him; the craft with which he managed the novels was of interest to a few hundred enthusiasts of the novel. (p. 280)
Death of the Fox is a huge book, but its devices are minute and precise…. The fictional constraint is very nearly as oppressive as Ralegh's own, in that the possibilities of action are severely limited. There is thought, of course—recollection, analysis, regret, celebration. But thought is a frustrating business unless there is some medium for its expression, some translation into speech and gesture, some resulting action. The great motion of the book, then, is the building of concentration and frustration, and then moments of release as, by the smallest but most satisfactory exercises of choice, Ralegh performs.
These performances, moreover, are frequently the historically reported ones, small pieces of bright fact that have survived in histories and biographies. This is what any historical novelist would try to do, working in as many of these little nuggets as possible. But for Garrett, the strategy is more ambitious. His scheme, so far as I can tell, is to make these little pieces of business the flowering of the garden he has been so carefully tending for hundreds of pages, the embodiment of attitudes, the natural result and necessary crown of all the internal business of intellection and recollection. (pp. 287-88)
Even the most cursory investigation into the details of Ralegh's life and into the history of the period will show how precise Garrett has been in maintaining that balance between imagination and factual correctness, and between Ralegh's limited area of freedom and the web of necessity in which he hung. (p. 290)
[Instead] of cribbing from Garrett and history, I shall cite the concluding sentences of the book: "The ax is bright in the dwindling sunlight. Flashes high before it falls. Higher by far a lone gull banks and circles on the darkening air. Then flies away to vanish over the Thames."
The key words, I think, are "by far" for they are the connecting words. Obviously a gull can fly higher than an ax. The connection establishes, merely by syntax, a point of view below in the crowd, a pair of eyes that looks up to the flash of the ax, and then, at the last moment, deciding not to look at its fall, averts to a gull higher by far, and by so doing admits to Ralegh the dignity he has earned, indicts the blunder of King James, and, most important, makes those historical judgments in immediate, sensuous terms.
So long as that kind of thing can be managed, there is a place for historical fiction, a very high place, and one that has only rarely been attempted. It is especially in the light of that rarity and the difficulty of which it is symptomatic, that I delight in and admire Death of the Fox. (pp. 293-94)
David R. Slavitt, "History—Fate and Freedom: A Look at George Garrett's New Novel," in The Southern Review (copyright, 1971, by David R. Slavitt), Vol. VII, No. 1, Winter, 1971, pp. 276-94.
[Death of the Fox] is called "a novel about Ralegh," and though the author's note explicitly states that it is not a biography,… it can and perhaps should be read as a biography written with the literary liberties available to the novelist but not to the formal and traditional biographer.
Garrett, making full use of the freedom available to the novelist—who is not held to the strict limits of accountability of the historian or the biographer—does a fine job of placing Ralegh in the involved intrigue of the Elizabethan world. Though the book is long, the reader's interest is maintained throughout. (p. 36)
Bruce B. Solnick, in Américas (reprinted by permission from Américas, monthly magazine published by the general Secretariat of the Organization of American States in English, Spanish, and Portuguese), January, 1974.