Jacob Epstein Anne Tyler - Essay

Anne Tyler

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There's an immediacy to ["Wild Oats"] that is lacking in other, more distantly written college novels. The endless round of classes, overdue papers, packages from home that never arrive—they're all here, where usually they'd be skipped over. And most important, the sense of time seems absolutely right. The story begins at Christmas, with some puzzling references to Billy's black eye. It swings back to September and the start of his college year; then it works through the term and up to Christmas again, at which point his black eye is explained. And there are flashbacks, all along, to Billy's childhood and early teens. The result is that Christmas seems to arrive, in this novel, exactly when it arrives in most real-life freshman years: about eight months after September. The rest of the world may rush on; "Wild Oats" hangs in a convincingly college-like vacuum.

There's one glaring error in this book, or so it seems to me. Although Billy's single point of view colors the whole plot perfectly and tells us all we need to know, every now and then there's a chapter giving us an English professor's side of it, which adds nothing. Other than that, "Wild Oats" is unfaltering—a densely written, solid piece of work, far beyond what you'd expect of a first novel. Jacob Epstein is more than promising. He writes with authority and grace, and he has a remarkable ability to allow a story to develop, seemingly on its own, from the texture of its characters' lives. (p. 14)

Anne Tyler, "Two Novels: Growing Up," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 17, 1979, pp. 14, 38.∗