Salamanca, J(ack) R(ichard) 1924?–
Salamanca, an American novelist, writes hauntingly lyrical prose. Although he is best known for his interpretation of the "mad" girl Lilith, and he has always been fascinated by madness, he has been mainly preoccupied in his fiction with the failure of love. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28.)
J. R. Salamanca's second novel is striking confirmation of the talent which aroused considerable excitement when his first novel, "The Lost Country," appeared three years ago. Although narrower in scope and less resonant in style than his first novel, "Lilith" is a subtler continuation of the author's theme: gentle innocence journeying toward self-knowledge through cruelty and corruption, unguardedly embracing with flaring intensity the secret mysteries of human intimacy….
"Lilith" demonstrates again Mr. Salamanca's rare sense of place, his sensuous, tender evocation of country people and country days, for it is within the setting he has known all his life, among the familiar and beloved hills and woods which nourished his boyhood, that Vincent becomes the victim of his own generosity and violates himself. It would be possible to view this book as it seems on the surface: a chilling exposure of the manipulation of the healthy by the demented (and vice versa). But "Lilith" is really something much rarer in contemporary fiction. As in "The Lost Country," this gifted young novelist has taken the myths of masculine growing-up—the hunger of the immature for involvement with the beautiful, the brilliant, and the unattainable—and woven them into a subtle canvas behind which dance the avid dreams of youth.
It is a tribute to J. R. Salamanca's great skill as a writer that both the surface of this novel—stylish in tone, precise in language, sure in evocation of place—and the unspoken knowledge which lies beneath it combine to produce a work of mature artistry.
Harding Lemay, "The Beautiful and Demented," in The New York Herald Tribune—Books, July 30, 1961, p. 9.
It is difficult to define precisely what the novelist has done [in "Lilith"], and even more difficult to determine what he intends. In the context of a mental institution, and with concepts chosen rather promiscuously from Freud and Jung, he has recast in ironic form and studied poetic prose various conflicting materials; the character of Vincent, that most gentle of Christian saints; the rabbinical legend of the night-creature Lilith, first wife of Adam, who abandoned him for demons; the theme of romantic agony, of heightened erotic sensibility, that the Marquis de Sade, Byron, Keats and others relished in their plots of the innocent corrupted by evil.
All this emerges as a witch's brew that Mr. Salamanca has tried to flavor to everyone's taste. If the reader insists that a novel have a specific meaning, no matter how subtle, he will not find one here. The equations of sense are many and contradictory; thus, at one moment insanity is equated with creativity, then with evil and next with unreality. Yet through this book there shines the light of an authentic talent, darkened though it may be in the mirror of insanity. If this is the novel the author felt he had to write after his brilliant "The Lost Country," perhaps in the next one he will return to that same lost country of his youth and dreams.
E. Nelson Hayes, "Love and Death in a World of Delusion," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1961 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 20, 1961, p. 30.
[Lilith] is a beautifully, sensitively written book, a book full of touching and memorable insights, often a moving book. Only its subject matter keeps Lilith from being entirely successful….
The first one hundred pages, in which the hero re-creates his early life in the town, his war years and his return, contain some of the loveliest prose I...
(The entire section contains 1522 words.)
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- Critical Essays (Contemporary Literary Criticism)