Jacob Epstein Daphne Merkin - Essay

Daphne Merkin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Wild Oats] is about college—that haven of deferred responsibilities—and unrequited love and identity-crisis; in short, everything that goes along with being old enough to vote and drink yet too young to know what you really want to be when (and if) you grow up….

The oats that get sown in Wild Oats are, in fact, rather tame, and Billy Williams is hardly your traditional merrymaking rascal: Hindered by self-consciousness and a developed sense of the absurd, he looks askance at the rowdier doings of his cronies and spends most of his time minutely analyzing his own sensations. Jacob Epstein has an almost Dreiserian eye for social detail and a real comic flair; he writes of youthful introspection and perturbation with insight and wit.

Unfortunately, Wild Oats is overblown, going on at far too great a length about experiences that don't merit such elaboration. Perhaps Epstein, who is barely out of Yale himself, needs to acquire greater distance from the sturm und drang of his own adolescence. Once he is better able to separate the fictional wheat from the chaff, his talents will doubtless be featured to riper effect. (p. 16)

Daphne Merkin, "Growing Up in America," in The New Leader (© 1979 by the American Labor Conference on International Affairs, Inc.), Vol. 62, No. 12, June 4, 1979, pp. 15-16.∗