Swados, Harvey 1920–1972
Swados was an American novelist, short story writer, and essayist. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 37-40.)
Swados is especially adept at short, incisive descriptions of people, a talent which is best exploited in On The Line. What is even a rarer talent is his ability at catching the spirit of a particular place in a particular time. Thus the Felton family is seen as rooted in contemporary, urban America, and, as the novel progresses, we begin to understand how their haunted lives, in many ways, tells us about ours. While Out Went The Candle is a powerful work, it suffers, at times, from ever shifting points of view, for often the transitions are rough. Unfortunately Swados has also seen fit to lace his tale with a number of super-obvious coincidences. And, most troublesome of all, the Lear equals Felton equation becomes too much of a literary cryptogram, a gimmick rather than an artistic device….
Swados, in a number of important articles, has shown his understanding for the problems of the industrial laborer; and in On The Line he extends this compassion. Not since Upton Sinclair's The Jungle have we had such a direct, steady look at the worker's world, one of hard dullness, continual pressures, and very little satisfaction. (pp. 188-89)
References to The Brothers Karamazov abound [in The Will], enough to offer hours of pleasure to the PMLA boys, but the horror of the suffering is more akin to, say, Saltykov-Schedrin's The Golovlovs. While the Swados book is a noble and often successful experiment, none of the characters [is] as well realized as Herman Felton, and not one is as successful as several of the figures who featured in Swados' shorter fictional pieces. What is splendid in The Will is the intelligence behind the narration and the quality of the structure. (pp. 190-91)
A good deal of Swados' most effective work appears in his stories, a genre in which he takes chances and more often than not succeeds in making art out of his severe social criticism. While he failed, in False Coin, to effectively depict the artist as he is spoiled by American life, this important theme does succeed in "The Man in the Toolhouse" and "The Dancer" (Nights in the Gardens of Brooklyn)…, two stories which are strikingly different in concept. (p. 191)
Keenly aware of the social realities of today, Swados, as a splendid and imaginative creative artist is well equipped to transform these realities into fiction, a fiction that will give the lie to all who so patronizingly announce that the novel of social criticism is dying. (p. 192)
Charles Shapiro, "Harvey Swados: Private Stories and Public Fiction," in Contemporary American Novelists, edited by Harry T. Moore (copyright © 1964, Southern Illinois University Press; reprinted by permission of Southern Illinois University Press), Southern Illinois University Press, 1964, pp. 182-92.
"Celebration" is Mr. Samuel Lumen's planet, an 89-year-old man's journal entries, resembling the "short views" of Saul Bellow's Mr. Sammler. "Inhumanly deified" for his long history of commitments to radical political causes and child welfare, Lumen lives in carefully managed repose. When memories and an insistent present disturb his packaged peace, Lumen begins a journal to explain to himself—perhaps to others—why the private man makes the public statue scream in the night. That journal, with almost daily entries, extends from April to September of 1975, from doubt to desperation and finally to a celebration as moving as Sammler's "we know, we know, we know."…
[Eventually, Lumen addresses] those questions Swados so often measured in his essays: How can radical ideas best be adapted to present circumstances? What is the proper use of personal and cultural authority? Where do the unique individual and the group action, private history and public work, best meet?
Swados's achievement is to gather these into one question: Does one celebrate American life in ritual or...
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