(Janet Miriam) Taylor (Holland) Caldwell Richard Freedman - Essay

Richard Freedman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Taylor Caldwell is a shining exemplar of Grey Power, still churning out highly successful novels in which she loftily pretends the 20th century—at least in fiction—never happened.

Millions of readers must agree that the narrative innovations of Proust and Joyce, to say nothing of Beckett and Borges, were all a mistake; that old-fashioned linear realism is still the best mode for fiction. So her ["Answer as a Man"] reads the way the works of Arnold Bennett or Theodore Dreiser would read if they hadn't been geniuses. On a certain level, Miss Caldwell steadfastly insists on providing a "good read."

This time her hero is Jason Garrity, born at the end of the 19th century to a desperately poor family of Irish immigrants in the grim little town of Belleville, Pa….

Miss Caldwell presents [Jason] as a contemporary Job, a heavy burden for a character compounded largely of Horatio Alger and pasteboard.

Like Archibald MacLeish's "J.B." and most other modern parallels to the Job story, "Answer as a Man" reduces the biblical account of a good man's suffering at the hands of an autocratic God to something closely resembling soap. But it's first-class soap, vastly superior to the suds you get on television, if not comparable to the tough-minded—and far more compact—Bible story.

Richard Freedman, in his review of "Answer As a Man," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1981 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 1, 1981, p. 29.