Jacob Epstein Stephen Fender - Essay

Stephen Fender

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Wild Oats looks at first like a late 1970s remake of The Catcher in the Rye. Once again it's the youth who act responsibly and the adults (in this case casualties of the 60's) who have the "phony values"…. Jacob Epstein is too subtle a writer (already, already) to offer this as objective satire. Unlike Holden Caulfield, Billy is no guru. The third-person narrative is Jamesian in that, except where it treats of Russo's involved, self-conscious reflections, it is restricted to Billy's vocal and intellectual range….

I know of very few novels, at least first novels, in which the author has managed to combine subtle knowing about writing with such fresh, naïve perceptions appropriate to his protagonist's age. Billy is an adolescent; so he lives on that cusp between uneasy past and uncertain future that makes adolescent meditations so melodramatic. The future presents itself in alternative scenarios….

Wild Oats is no bad omen. If Jacob Epstein can remain true to his age, whatever it is, when he writes his next novel, and not be prompted by praise like this to freeze his future protagonists in futile re-runs of the adolescent Billy Williams—that is, if he can avoid Salinger's nemesis—he will turn into a very interesting novelist indeed.

Stephen Fender, "The Generation Game," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1980; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4013, February 22, 1980, p. 202.