(Janet Miriam) Taylor (Holland) Caldwell Riley Hughes - Essay

Riley Hughes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Listener is not exactly a novel; it is rather a series of related episodes or tales held together by a slender string of place. The protagonists of these episodes come to a sanctuary built through the aid of a bequest left by the lawyer John Godfrey. Some are scoffing and defiant; others are hurt and humble; all are seeking peace. Some push the button which opens the curtains to reveal "The Man Who Listens" patiently. Others tell their story without caring to learn the identity of the man. Gradually, as one episode succeeds another, it is implied from the guarded language used that (in some way not made clear) "The Man Who Listens" is Christ.

Religious novels such as this one have their greatest appeal for those who share the subordinate ideas and who relish the style of the author. For example, the client called "The Pharisee," we are told, "hated the inelegant, the openly enjoyed." (p. 197)

Some readers may have difficulty in seeing all this as a serious indictment. But even Alexander Damon, an esthete and an alcoholic, is humbled by his experience in the late John Godfrey's sanctuary. His parting remark is "The ancient Greeks poured out wine in a libation to God. Would you mind very much if I poured out my whiskey in a libation?"

The slick ease with which Miss Caldwell cures alcoholism, ends racial tensions and irons out life's chief problems is sufficient explanation of the low critical status which the religious novel, so-called, enjoys.

Those individuals who bring maturity to the life of the spirit and the life of art will be well advised to give The Listener the widest possible berth. (p. 198)

Riley Hughes, in his review of "The Listener," in Catholic World (copyright 1961 by The Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle in the State of New York; used by permission), Vol. 193, No. 1155, June, 1961, pp. 197-98.