Irving Wallace Wallace, Irving (Vol. 7) - Essay

Wallace, Irving (Vol. 7)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Wallace, Irving 1916–

Wallace is a prolific American author of popular, topical novels, short stories, and screenplays. He has remarked that he tells his tales as if they were part of an oral tradition. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Irving Wallace is a leading figure in what might be regarded as a new branch of American literature, the novel based on subjects of topical interest and universal appeal. The conversion of current events into fiction is not new, but Mr. Wallace—along with Allen Drury, Morris West and others—has developed a theme into a form. His novels, particularly "The Chapman Report" and "The Prize," which dealt respectively with a Kinsey-type survey and the selection of Nobel Prize winners, have been hugely popular, in both senses of the word. They skillfully combine the most alluring features of the headline, the exposé, the editorial and the mystery story.

In ["The Three Sirens"], Mr. Wallace has invented a group of Polynesian islands, the "Three Sirens" of the title, where about two hundred and fifty people, a blend of natives and white, flourish in a completely isolated and highly rational society that features, chiefly, unusual sex customs. (We don't hear much about the other aspects of the society except that it is pretty nearly ideal in all respects and that no one ever starves or steals.) Into this remote paradise the author, in a further burst of inventiveness, has imported a small group of Westerners. As is usual in fiction dealing with this theme, they are Americans, members of a team investigating the islands in the interests of anthropological scholarship. Naturally, they have a lot to learn from the natives.

The members of the team are greatly troubled by their inability to achieve what the islanders enjoy in so full a measure: a satisfactory sex life. All are suffering from thwarted libidos, and their maladjustments represent the pains of what Mr. Wallace calls "civilization's dirty wounds." (pp. 40-1)

Considering that most of the visitors are professionally concerned with either primitive societies or sex in one form or another, they are remarkably easily shocked by what they find on the Three Sirens…. And indeed in all other ways the Americans seem unreal. The reader learns almost nothing about them except their sexual maladjustments. While an undue fascination with mass rape may create problems, it does not in itself create a personality. The characters are made of the same cardboard in which the Kinsey Report is bound.

Synthetic entertainment values remain. The author, in "The Chapman Report," used the art of the novelist to give life to dry scientific facts. Here, he combines the further enlivening of that work with a similar service to "Coming of Age in Samoa" and he is bound to entrance the uncritical reader. He is refreshingly free of the pedantries and complexities to which novelists are too often prey. He uses few words (aside from anatomical terms), and introduces few ideas, that would be unfamiliar to a high-school sophomore. His style consists of forthright narrative punctuated by travel notes, menus, essays on anthropological scholarship, the breakdown of Freudian techniques when applied to non-Western societies, frequent and vivid descriptions of human bodies, both nude and semi-nude, both male and female, both separate and in juxtaposition.

At one point, before Polynesia has commenced its work of regeneration, one of the characters observes about another, "And his talk. Sex, sex, sex, and when he's through you think it is some epidemic that is gradually being quarantined for study. He takes all the idea of pleasure out of it." For readers suffering from the dirty wounds of civilization, this might stand as an epigraph. (p. 41)

Lawrence Lafore, "Freudian Techniques Broke Down in Polynesia," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1963 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 22, 1963, pp. 40-1.

Let a good writer tell the story of our first Negro president and you have drama. Irving Wallace has done just that and proven that he is good. This novel ["The Man"] is bound to sell big; bound to be considered as potent movie material. It has everything and it is worth reading for many reasons.

The test of a novel is its people. You will find the men and women of these events singularly real. It is not easy to write well of current events; to walk us around the White House and maintain balance and sense. The danger is that such a choice of subject may lead the author into gross sentimentality or sensationalism. It seems to me that Irving Wallace has succeeded in bringing a thrilling story to the end of his book and kept his people alive and real. Some readers may find incidents in the book contrived in order to bring about suspense. But we must let an author be himself. He is not an historian or a reporter; he tells a story meant to entertain and in some ways teach us about ourselves. In these pages the mirror is genuinely held up to nature and it reflects an American image which is far from complimentary. But I fear it is disturbingly true. (pp. 222-23)

Of course there is sex here, just as there is in life; but it is not steamy nor is it irrelevant….

Mr. Wallace has researched carefully so that the White House locale, the President's daily life and routine, the daily drama of Washington and world politics become fascinating. The novelist can turn news photos and world leaders into neighbors for us. And this novel so succeeds. Perhaps it is unsettling for us to uncover a symbol of a Secretary of State, here named Arthur Eaton, and see revealed under the smooth, well-trained diplomacy the sure signs of animal selfishness. Perhaps the raw cruelty of newsmen and powerful lords of business are better seen here than in the paid advertisements. This summer we witness a revolution of our Negro citizens as they burst forth into the city streets hurling hatred at the white world. In this story of a first Negro President you will be able to relive some of those riots and see that a Negro President is not the answer to any minority problem.

We need men—hence the title of the novel. Douglass Dilman is human with pitiably human faults like all of us; but he is a man, in love with nation and with his brothers in the flesh. The office of the Presidency, so accidentally brought upon his shoulders, causes him to grow as all great offices should. The result is a triumph out of terrible sufferings wreaked upon his innocent person because his body is black while the souls of his persecutors are black. It's a powerful novel and it brings credit to a fine writer. (p. 223)

Eugene J. Linehan, S.J., in Best Sellers (copyright 1964, by the University of Scranton), September 15, 1964.

[Irving Wallace has] a flair for controversial, topical subjects and a good liberal's serious respect for honesty, justice and nonconformity. He's also very adept at those unlikely coincidences that keep a reader wondering. But when you've been made to wonder, you feel cheated if you don't get answers, and ["The Word"] bypasses those answers for a sweeping message of faith.

Stephen Kroll, "The Gospel According to Wallace," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 19, 1972, p. 39.

Irving Wallace's The Fan Club … has had pre-publication word-of-trade, not to the effect that it's great lit, but that it's great Wallace, which subsumes either that some previous Wallaces were less than great Wallace, or that with The Fan Club Wallace has, as it were, risen above himself. What Wallace is good at is the timely plot that at first blush seems somehow more important than it is. What he's bad at is sustaining that impression. The Wallace novel is like a doughy muffin; whatever theme-of-merit it seems to offer at the outset has about as much chance of survival as a melting blob of Blue Bonnet. The pace of his latest is especially ponderous, which is debilitating when one considers that except for one last and hard-to-believe twist, everything in The Fan Club is predictable. Had it been a third its length, it might have made a rather crackling suspense story. At 511 furrow-browed pages, it seems fit for the fatty farm. (pp. 78-9)

Eliot Fremont-Smith, in New York Magazine (© 1974 by NYM Corp.; reprinted by permission of New York Magazine and Eliot Fremont-Smith), April 1, 1974.

The Great American Theme flourishing in recent film and fiction concerns the menopausal U.S. male who seems to be burdened by mortgages, a dismal sex life and fallen arches. This sad creature takes the holiday of his dreams, literally, combining hunting and fishing with other manly pursuits, e.g., rape, torture, kidnap and/or murder. Optional extras are sexual deviation, castration and severe mutilation, variously featured in such creations as James Dickey's Deliverance and David Osborn's more recent novel Open Season, a dreadful account of three top Detroit executives who each year put a man and a woman to death for sport. (Says the jacket blurb, a searing portrait "of America in the seventies.")

Irving Wallace has always been trendy. But in his latest package [The Fan Club] he has modestly chosen to limit himself to kidnaping and rape, perhaps because the good liberal in him balks at going further. (p. 100)

Wallace likes to call his books "novels of commitment," although commitment to what (other than the survival of the motion picture industry) is not always clear. In the past he has toiled through sex research in the suburbs, the inequities of book censorship, race and the presidency, a modern religious crisis, and the politics of the Nobel Prize. The fatty results of these labors are always an elaborate story line, with the action dictated by a clash of differing characters. The Fan Club has that kind of plot too, and the idea of a love goddess turned doughty liberationist is a nice embellishment. It is of course ridiculous, but that does not much matter in a book whose characters say things like "We don't have a chance to fulfill such a dream," and young Adam compares Sharon with something out of Christopher Marlowe while noting (always the writer) that the girl is clad in a "body-hugging knit blouse" and "abbreviated leather skirt."

A reasonably good time might be had by all readers who like that sort of grisly fun, were it not for yards of description: "Under the ornate iron chandelier that hung by chains from the center beam was a brown suede sofa opposite three plaid armchairs, with an underslung roughhewn wood table standing in for a coffee table." Not to mention Wallace's customary wallow in research. (pp. 100, E3)

Helen Rogan, "Something for the Boys," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time, Inc.), April 15, 1974, pp. 100, E3.

Although Irving Wallace's "The R Document" has already been sold to the movies, the author of "The Man," "The Seven Minutes" and many other best sellers is a public spirited and print-oriented author at heart, at least this time out. Rather shorter at 383 pages than the usual Wallace effort, the book contains among its pages the better part of an introductory course in the U.S. Constitution, plus extended animadversions on such topics as the history of the F.B.I. under Hoover, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the history of the company town in America, the Organized Crime Control Act of 1969 and the content and meaning of the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately for those who like fiction well-crafted, Wallace likes to deliver this information by having his characters tell it to each other, often quite in defiance of every elementary rule of what not to do with dialogue. In one scene the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court lectures the Attorney General on the first ten Amendments as if the Justice were a visitor from Mars who had never heard of them before. (p. 5)

Gene Lyons, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 14, 1976.