Jimmy Breslin Critical Essays

Breslin, Jimmy

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Breslin, Jimmy 1930–

Breslin, an American writer, is well known in New York for his syndicated newspaper columns and his political activities.

Breslin is a local colorist of this city [New York], particularly of Queens; he has the place, the time and the speech…. Breslin writes prose in a New York idiom with a shrewdness all his own, but for things beyond our borders his style has limitations. He employed it to good comic effect in "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" and he has adopted it sagely in the New York chapters of this chilling book [World Without End, Amen]. Among the horrors of Belfast and Derry, however, it often seems inappropriate. That is something one does not like to say of a writer so much to be valued for his rightness about things on his own turf.

Harvey Gardner, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 26, 1973, pp. 6, 18.

In World Without End, Amen, Breslin weighs in as a serious novelist, then takes himself too seriously. The narrative's bog-slogging pace is a shame, because Breslin clearly cares, and can teach much about people who seldom turn up in current fiction: frustrated cops, tiresome racists, lower-middle-class wives with horizons defined by mortgage payments and broken washing machines. Breslin knows this turf, but he seems to have taken his title too literally. Under his ministrations, an instructive tour is slowly transformed into an endless vigil.

Paul Gray, "Emerald Blues," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc.), September 17, 1973, p. 100.

[Breslin] … writes as he speaks (on television and in his periodical journalism), not in the Queen's English, but in an "ethnic" Irish Queens (NY) accent. He knows that world as only a native son can, and that knowledge is the source of his strength as a writer. He is racetrack wise and street-corner funny, and he can smell a con through three feet of concrete. He is the only honest Irish cop on the force.

When he is on home ground in the first third of his new novel [World Without End, Amen], writing about Irish cops in Queens, his ear and eye pick up everything within range. If his portrait of life at home and on the beat is accurate—and there can be no doubt of its authenticity—then that is where hell is located, in the bars, courtrooms and those endless rows of two-family houses of "neighborhood" New York. This is not the black ghetto or the central city; no one goes hungry and at the end of the line there is a pension. This is the white, ethnic, lower middleclass, embattled "suburb" of the most depressing drabness, meanness, sloth, squalor—the spiritual equivalent of hopeless dead-end poverty; it would make drunkards of Carrie Nation and Billy Sunday and an atheist of Billy Graham.

But Breslin is not content to be our chronicler of this desiccated corner of the city. He is aflame with a mission….

[But World Without End, Amen] collapses; it collapses into some good on-scene reportage of the unholy war in Belfast and Derry and elsewhere—but as a novel it nonetheless collapses utterly…. Breslin at his worst has always been a beery sentimentalist who does not scruple at bathos and has a marked weakness for soggy movie finishes.

The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1973 by Harrison-Blaine of New Jersey, Inc.), September 29, 1973, p. 31.

In "World Without End, Amen," Breslin, to my surprise and delight, outruns his writ as a New Journalist and becomes, in the best sense, an Old Novelist….

His savage depiction of life in the Davey family and life on the Force is meant to instruct, not to amuse, and it carries much of the authority of Robert Coles' recent studies of Middle American rage and frustration….

The scenes in Ulster belong to the people of Ulster, and the principal figure of these scenes is actually the Protestant-Catholic struggle. Breslin's reportorial skill tells here: I have not read a more persuasive account of the modern Troubles. Though the author seems to side with the Catholic faction, and though he adduces many instances of their oppression, there is no feeling of polemic in his pages. One is reminded of Morley Safer's television reports from Vietnam, telling us, between the lines, that this is really how it is.

L. E. Sissman, in The New Yorker, October 8, 1973, p. 166.

I understand that in the United States World Without End, Amen is rather widely taken to be a revelation of the nature and origin of the troubles in Northern Ireland. There are reasons for being skeptical about this revelation. Certainly anyone who tries to understand the situation in Northern Ireland today with the aid of Mr. Breslin's book will find himself or herself far out at sea….

As a political guide to the Northern Ireland situation, either in 1970, 1974, or at any other time, World Without End, Amen is worse than useless, since it is plausibly and persistently misleading. Considering it as a work of fiction, I do not find it any more satisfactory….

The pity of it is that Mr. Breslin could have written quite a good book about Northern Ireland; vestiges of it are embedded in World Without End, Amen. He is a reporter who describes very well what he actually sees: his descriptions of riots, of the outward appearance of people and their clothes, of houses, rooms, bars, and streets are accurate and telling. (His ear is much less good, most of his Irish dialogue is unspeakable, in every sense of the word.) If he had put his meager ideological equipment on the shelf, had put cotton wool in his ears, and had described what he actually saw in Northern Ireland that summer, day by day, the result would have had to be much nearer to the truth, and also more interesting, than World Without End, Amen.

Conor Cruise O'Brien, "An Ulster Fable," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; © 1974 by NYREV, Inc.), February 21, 1974, pp. 13-14.