(Janet Miriam) Taylor (Holland) Caldwell Jane Cobb - Essay

Jane Cobb

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is impossible to read anything of Taylor Caldwell's without being reminded of the old gag, "He don't sing good, but he sings loud." Miss Caldwell doesn't write well, to be sure—but her books are infused with a sort of wild, anything-goes vitality which can hardly be ascribed to Henry James. Not that "The Sound of Thunder" is a good book. It isn't. But Miss Caldwell has managed to stay sufficiently within the bounds of educated standards to make the reader feel rewarded for panting after her as she free-wheels through this long, complicated chronicle.

The central character is Edward Enger, a hard worker who was sent to help in his father's delicatessen at 14 so that his three brothers and one sister—the geniuses—could become, respectively, a pianist, a painter, a writer and a theatrical producer. That, at least, was his mother's idea, but it didn't quite work out. Eddie, we discover, is something of a genius himself. He works day and night, makes a fabulous amount of money and asks nothing of his family except that they turn out to be geniuses, as advertised.

Inevitably, they aren't geniuses at all. (pp. 48-9)

One of the chief assets of the book is Miss Caldwell's account of Eddie's career in the delicatessen business and her ability to make it fascinating. It is easy to believe that her documentation here is accurate. When she gets into the field of world politics, she is somewhat less than reliable. She is also a bit tedious when she gets on the theme "the power to tax is the power to destroy," as she does at fairly regular intervals. Understandably, Miss Caldwell is even crosser with the Bureau of Internal Revenue than most of us.

As noted, "The Sound of Thunder" is not, in any academic sense of the word, a successful novel. But it has pace, drama—and more characters than a suburban phone book. Readers who enjoy stories of this kind will get their money's worth. (p. 49)

Jane Cobb, "The Man behind the Geniuses," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1957 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 27, 1957, pp. 48-9.