Helen Yglesias Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Helen Yglesias 1915–

American novelist and nonfiction writer.

Yglesias began writing fiction at age 54 after giving up her job as literary editor for The Nation. Critics praise her skill in depicting the interaction of individuals and her sensitive rendering of human emotions.

(See also CLC, Vol. 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 37-40.)

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It's easy to say "It's never too late." But Helen Yglesias not only said it, she also proved it by sitting down at the age of 54 and writing the novel "How She Died," which she had been promising herself she would write ever since she was an adolescent. Moreover, in her third book and first work of nonfiction ["Starting: Early, Anew, Over, and Late"] she goes several steps further. She tries to figure out what made it so difficult for her to do what she had always wanted to do. And she tries to wrest from her difficulties universal meaning….

She would first write a fragment of an autobiography….

In the telling of this story, she would discover many of the obstacles that stand in...

(The entire section is 484 words.)

Doris Grumbach

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Rather than a collection of stories about late starters, ["Starting: Early, Anew, Over, and Late"] is an assemblage of oral histories based on a self-evident premise, that "there are as many different aspects to starting as there are manifestations of being." This obviously being so, the book nonetheless lacks a clear thesis, because everyone who manages to stay alive for any length of time starts something, late or early, or starts again in midlife or later. There are, of course, some who never start at all, who drift through life without achieving what is now fatuously called "self-realization"—the expression, through a choice made sometime in life, of the inner self. But they are the only exceptions to the...

(The entire section is 223 words.)

Marjorie Pryse

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Helen Yglesias waited until the age of 54 to make a start on the career she had always wanted for herself…. In the autobiographical essay which opens Starting … she recalls this moment in her life: "I wanted to be on my way as a storyteller. Even though it was very late, I wanted to make a start on what I had always wanted to do."

She proves herself as that storyteller in Family Feeling, her second novel, and now [in Starting] as the voice which organizes and relates the tales of other real people who, like herself, are articulate on the subject of starting—"early, anew, over, and late," as the book's subtitle describes Yglesias's quest….

The book's...

(The entire section is 301 words.)

Publishers Weekly

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Sweetsir"] is a stirring novel about a woman who, in self-defense, murders her husband…. In arresting and sensitive detail Yglesias tells Sally's story, from her working-class childhood and her first marriage at 16, all the way through the conclusion of her trial. Yglesias explores Sally's and Sweets's marriage, which begins with passion and camaraderie—emotional, philosophical and sexual—and disintegrates in turbulence and violence. Every character, every line rings true. This is an altogether stunning novel….

"Fiction: 'Sweetsir'," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the March 6, 1981, issue of Publishers Weekly by permission, published by R. R. Bowker...

(The entire section is 107 words.)

Elizabeth Duvall

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Sally Sweetsir, the extremely likable heroine of this instructive novel [Sweetsir], is a survivor. Victimized by most of the everyday ills of society—the deadening poverty of the working class, a meaningless and humiliating education, the brutality of unimaginative men—she nevertheless manages to preserve an impressive self-possession. She also murders her husband.

Though bizarre in summary, Sally's story becomes an utterly plausible one, and in exploring its snarled threads Yglesias exposes the kind of systematic degradation that drives ordinary people to violence….

Clearly a feminist tale, in that its protagonist's downfall lies in her relationship with men,...

(The entire section is 151 words.)

A. V. Kish

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Obviously there was intentional irony in the author's choice of a title for [Sweetsir], for Morgan Beauchamp Sweetsir is anything but the gentleman his name implies. Instead, he is a heavy drinking, tattooed, macho-type with a penchant for kinky sex. His fatal stabbing by his wife in the very first chapter becomes more and more justifiable as the novel flashes back to bring the reader up to the killing and beyond to the trial of Sally Sweetsir….

The novel is not just another oh-so-typical condemnation of wife abuse. It questions the peculiar mentality of those women whose stubborn devotion to romantic fantasies makes them vulnerable to such abuse. In spite of her lawyer's attempts to link...

(The entire section is 286 words.)

Vivian Gornick

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Helen Yglesias is a talented writer. Her prose is alive and buoyant; her language both yields and demands, forming by its deceptive ease a shape that holds the reader's inner eye. Yet Sweetsir is not compelling; it seems uprooted and lacking in context. It feels as though it is floating in literary space. Panels of prose are simply laid out side by side—The Early Life of Sally Stark, The Life of Sally and Sweets, The Death of Sweets, The Trial of Sally Sweetsir—each panel given equal weight as though, equally and together, the curiously stitched sections will tell the story—and indeed, they do tell a story, but not the story.

The metaphoric subject of this book is the...

(The entire section is 454 words.)