Joanne Greenberg

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Joanne (Goldenberg) Greenberg 1932–

(Has also written under pseudonym of Hannah Green) American novelist and short story writer.

Greenberg is best known for her autobiographical novel I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1964). One of the first books about mental illness that is told from the viewpoint of the patient rather than the analyst, Rose Garden charts the course of Deborah Blau, a young schizophrenic caught between the real world and her own secret world, the kingdom of Yr. When Rose Garden was first released, it received little notice either from critics or the general public. Gradually, however, it started gaining popularity and today it is widely considered one of the most sensitive and revealing portraits in contemporary literature of a struggle against severe mental disorder.

Rose Garden is based on Greenberg's own experience with schizophrenia; she wrote it under the pseudonym Hannah Green in order to protect her young children from the knowledge that she had been institutionalized as a teenager. Most early reviewers rightly guessed that the book is nonfictional and considered Rose Garden more valuable as an honest account of mental illness and life in a mental institution than as a literary work of art. As Brigid Brophy noted: "Should it turn out to be a work of fiction, its value would vanish overnight." Critics generally attribute this to the inconsistency of Greenberg's approach and her sketchy characterizations. They feel that she focuses too much on Deborah's illness and the course of her therapy and does not adequately develop Deborah or her doctor as personalities in their own right. However, other critics praise her ability to describe Deborah's mental state so thoroughly that her madness becomes comprehensible and her escape into Yr appealing. Even those critics who dispute Rose Garden's literary merits generally feel that Greenberg's writing is competent enough to maintain the emotional power and the realism on which the success of the book ultimately depends. Young adult readers readily identify with Deborah's longing to escape reality and her feelings of alienation from the world.

Greenberg's other novels and short story collections have not attained such widespread popularity, but they have been well-received by critics. Although her works differ markedly from each other in terms of setting and plot, a common theme found in many of them is the alienation that results from lack of communication. Whether the result of a physical handicap, as in In This Sign (1968), or rigid adherence to religious or familial creeds, as in The King's Persons (1963) and Founder's Praise (1976), respectively, Greenberg skillfully and realistically captures the sources of alienation. Critics often praise her accurate portrayal of the diverse settings, times, and occupations which provide the background for her fiction.

(See also CLC, Vol. 7; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; and Something about the Author, Vol. 25.)

George E. Gravel

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[The King's Persons] re-creates a little-known aspect of English history with an attention to the nuances of commonplace life usually lost amid the panoply of historical romances that are preoccupied with large and glamorous movements. It is centered on the massacre of the Jews of York in 1190, which came as a climax to the anti-semitism aroused during a decade of Jewish immigration resulting from similar atrocities in Paris….

This background is studied by Mrs. Greenberg through a reporting of day-to-day events … in three areas. Most prominent is the Jewish section of York, where the reader meets Rabbi Elias, the chief spokesman; Baruch, one of the wealthiest men in England; Abram and Rana, Baruch's son and wife respectively; Josce, Baruch's former partner; and Bett, attractive Christian servant-girl. A second part of the action is...

(This entire section contains 332 words.)

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set at the nearby monastery and, through Brothers Lewis and Simon, it explores the diocesan decay and strife within the Church. Finally, the role of the nobility is shown chiefly through Baron Malabestia and his squire, Richard de Kuckney. A subordinate theme is the love between Abram and Bett, frustrated by their environment.

In quiet, unspectacular fashion the bulk of the book depicts the ordinary, daily relationships among these three elements of medieval society. Ultimately they build into a bloody massacre led by Malabestia that ruthlessly and treacherously slaughters the leaders of the Jews and disperses the whole Jewish community. Abram escapes but is separated from Bett and he flees finally to solitude in southern England.

The picture is sympathetic to the Jewish viewpoint, as well it might be. Yet without denying the blot on Christian history that these events constitute, one does wish that the Church were a bit more robustly counterbalanced by some representatives who practice rather than merely speak Christ's teaching…. This [novel] is a good antidote for the selfrighteously inclined; but one that also calls for adult discernment.

George E. Gravel, in a review of "The King's Persons," in Best Sellers, Vol. 22, No. 23, March 1, 1963, p. 442.


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[In The King's Persons, Greenberg has] written a bad novel and a good book. Her plot reads like a combination of Abram's Irish Rose and a study of that tedious 20th century malaise, Lack of Communication. But if her fiction is wanting, her historiography is not. With painstaking care, she has woven each of the skeins of medieval life into a vivid tapestry that shows the loutishness and insensitivity of the baronial land-holders, the obtuseness of the peasantry, the twisted fervor of churchmen who found virtue in the wholesale slaughter of heretics, and the disturbing contrast between the warmth of Jewish communal life and the demeaning nature of usury. (p. M24)

"Pogrom in Yorkshire," in Time, Vol. LXXXI, No. 13, March 29, 1963, pp. M23-M24.

The Times Literary Supplement

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This penetrating novel [The King's Persons] is set in the Jewry of York, long established and reasonably secure…. Then in 1182, when the book opens, [the Jews] accept a large group of refugees driven from France by young King Philip…. [As] the number of local Jews is suddenly increased Gentiles feel disturbed.

Good men, both Christian and Jewish, explore the common ground of both their faiths, and try to bridge the remaining gap by personal friendship. But tension mounts, until a pogrom at the coronation of King Richard increases the flow of refugees….

Until she describes with great power the final massacre Miss Greenberg proceeds largely by recounting discussions between her leading characters. Although she is skilful in presenting the public opinion of the twelfth century these discussions sometimes ignore verisimilitude. In a new and ardent monastery a novice may sit on a fence by the hour, chatting with his Jewish friend; we happen to know that Ailred of Rievaulx never spoke a world of idle conversation to anyone during his whole novitiate. But these opportunities for busy men to pass hours in friendly chat are a minor flaw in a thrilling, intelligent and disturbing book.

"Fire and Sword," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3201, July 5, 1963, p. 497.

R. V. Cassill

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Deborah Blau's psychosis—the focus of ["I Never Promised You a Rose Garden"]—is the flowering, in the second American-born generation, of her family's social and domestic pathology. The illness is, at the same time, an expedient, for survival amid the contradictions with which her inherited world is furnished, and an irrationally cunning search for the mental health which would be a fit culmination of a flight from the Old World to the New….

In mid-adolescence, the other world, which [Deborah] calls Yr, is ready to receive her. She has no language left to protest her half-chosen abduction into this glamorous and tormenting world except an attempt at suicide. The present drama of the novel begins when her parents are forced to interpret this bloody appeal correctly and take her to a mental hospital.

In the hospital, Deborah's symptoms get spectacularly worse…. When standard therapies are of no avail, she is transferred to a "locked ward" reserved for the most disturbed patients. Only the stalwart and wise Dr. Fried refuses to concede that her symptoms are a true index of the progress of the disease. The doctor discerns a will to survive still actively frustrating Deborah's attempts at mental and physical self-destruction. And from this tap root of hidden strength the hard work of doctor and patient at last induces a growth that desperately seeks the living weather of reality.

Hannah Green (a pseudonym …) has done a marvelous job of dramatizing the internal warfare in a young psychotic. She has anatomized, in full detail, the relationship between a whole, sick human being and the clinical situation—including doctors, other patients and the abstract forces of institutional life. With a courage that is sometimes breathtaking in its concessions—in its serene acceptance of risks—the author makes a faultless series of discriminations between the justifications for living in an evil and complex reality and the justifications for retreating into the security of madness. One surrenders to the authority of Miss Green's thematic statement because she has foreseen, admitted and passed beyond all the major objections that might be made to it.

Yet, convincing and emotionally gripping as this novel is, it falls a little short of being fictionally convincing. Our attention is fixed on the roles played by the characters rather than on their essential humanity. We are made to care whether the doctor will succeed as doctor, whether the patient will successfully overcome her illness, while the real fictional question of the cost and value of such successes is ultimately slighted. It is as if some wholly admirable, and yet specialized, nonfictional discipline has been dressed in the garments and mask of fiction. The reader is certainly not cheated by this imposition—nor is he truly satisfied.

R. V. Cassill, "A Locked Ward, a Desperate Search for Reality," in The New York Times Book Review, May 3, 1964, p. 36.

Haskel Frankel

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It is difficult to appraise I Never Promised You a Rose Garden as a work of fiction, which is what Hannah Green … chooses to call it. As a novel it is flawed; as nonfiction it is a painfully memorable case history told with great honesty….

Mrs. Green never attempts to shock the reader or to sensationalize for large sales. When Deborah is driven to inflict burns upon herself with stolen cigarettes, the author relates the incident from so deep a vantage point within the patient's mind that one sees the logical illogicality which is the ever-present truth in the behavior of the disturbed.

In Dr. Fried she has conveyed a true portrait of the analyst at work—serving as a warm wall against which Deborah can throw herself mentally, always to bounce back against herself with gradually decreasing intensity. Mrs. Green's picture of the patients, their lives among themselves and in relation to the hospital staff, is also revealingly fresh.

However, the two-steps-forward, one-step-backward progression of Deborah's surfacing to life lacks that tightness which fiction requires. The chapters devoted to Deborah's family seem not so much subplot as stage waits while a Greek chorus wrings its hands. There is nothing the family can add to Deborah's history that Deborah and her analyst do not more powerfully disclose.

Nevertheless, be it fiction or non-, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is absorbing, powerful, and moving.

Haskel Frankel, "Alone in the Kingdom of Yr," in Saturday Review, Vol. XLVII, No. 29, July 18, 1964, p. 40.

The Times Literary Supplement

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Case-records of psychoanalysis (without the repetitions) can be fascinating. Miss Green … gives us more than that [in I Never Promised You a Rose Garden]; she tries to create the whole world of the mental hospital as the schizophrenic sees it, as the doctor sees it, as the nurses see it, and as the parents, terrified and ignorant, see it from outside.

The book is seldom naive, seldom humorous, sometimes ironical….

There is a contrast between the responsible morality expected of the staff, and the freedom of the insane, who often take advantage of it…. Miss Green is excellent when conveying relief and delight at the freedom from the propriety, freedom from lies, and most of all the freedom to call mad mad, crazy crazy. She is excellent too on the inventiveness of the insane.

But she has her failures. The parents are unconvincing; the sympathetic German woman doctor is sometimes trite and sentimental as well as sometimes profound. There are the rather predictable gradual unearthing of truths, the weakness of the father, the anti-semitism of the summer camp, [and] the jealousy and guilt towards the younger sister…. [The] author does her best to convince us of the excitement and difficulty that Deborah experiences in making friends and adjusting herself generally to the real world. But although the doctor keeps saying that she must show Deborah how exciting the real world can be (at the same time without promising her "a rose garden"), the author never quite succeeds in making it so. In fact, Miss Green is rather better at describing the terror and imaginativeness of the schizophrenic than she is at the return to normality: her normality is perilously close to dullness.

"Calling Mad Mad," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3259, August 13, 1964, p. 721.

Brigid Brophy

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Hannah Green is—almost literally—a naturalist, in that she analyses neither by the creative method of the artist nor in the anatomist's or evolutionist's sense. Hers is a purely descriptive, and to that extent external, account of a natural phenomenon, even though the phenomenon itself is a subjective feeling—what it feels like to be insane….

[I Never Promised You a Rose Garden] makes the impression of being only nominally a novel; should it turn out to be a work of fiction, its value would vanish overnight. In this context, it is almost a mark of the author's honesty that the short passages where the narrative leaves Deborah—usually to follow the parents home and enter into their misgivings—are only just adequate, the work less of imagination than of conscientiously fair-minded reconstruction. In the record of Deborah's own experiences, conscientiousness is intensified into a positive and no doubt painful passion to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth—about the encroachment on Deborah's mind of Yr, the kingdom of her systematic delusions; the wasteful, uncreative over-intellectualism of schizophrenia (there is a whole Yri language) and its bitter, compulsive puns—truly sick jokes, which presently explode into the violence which gets Deborah removed to the dreaded Ward D; the camaraderie between patients, their ganging up against certain attendants, the delicacy whereby patient does not mention to patient their common knowledge that mental illness is partly a refuge from reality.

That knowledge is virtually the limit of both patients' and doctors' insight. Therapy goes hardly beyond a patient's being put into—or herself requesting—an ice-packed bed. Deborah reveres her European refugee doctor; that she adopts the doctor as an alternative mother is obvious: but it is never made explicit. Doctor and patient do not analyse or even acknowledge the adoption. The doctor's name, Dr Fried, reads like a schizophrenic pun itself, on peace, freed and Freud; if it is one, it is pretty well the only allusion to Freud in the book. The sessions are conducted in terms of pre-Freudian, of positively Euripidean, psychology, with the doctor sending messages, via Deborah, to the Yri powers, to the effect that they do not really exist. If the doctor is remarkable, it is for her moral honesty, of which the patient's own exceptional honesty can take advantage. The eventual cure is spontaneous. A naturalist indeed, the author leaves one gaping at 'the wonders of nature'—the sheer force of the life force in a girl of 16. (p. 221)

Brigid Brophy, "An Yri Story," in New Statesman, Vol. LXVIII, No. 1744, August 14, 1964, pp. 221-22.∗

Joyce Carol Oates

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This group of twelve excellent short stories [Rites of Passage] is all the more remarkable for its being not only artistically "beautiful" but morally and spiritually beautiful as well. Though Miss Greenberg hardly writes of people with happy problems—her characters include the deaf, the wives and mothers of the deaf, the epileptic, isolated farmers who have eased into insanity, young women hemmed in by banal, crushing circumstances, aging men impatient to die and get it accomplished—she is able through her almost miraculous sense of the complexities of the human predicament to make each person, hopeful or hopeless, demonstrate for us a way of surviving.

And yet that sounds grim—"surviving"—and doesn't do justice to the surprising range of energies and inventiveness Miss Greenberg's people possess. In one of the finest stories, "And Sarah Laughed," the wife of a totally deaf man begins to realize, as the years pass, the need in her to express the "saidunsaid" nuances of love…. Some of the stunning subtlety of Miss Greenberg's novel about the deaf, In This Sign, is evoked by a few swift revelations here—and we, the "normal," we who take so for granted the incredible miracle of human language, are made to realize what the universe might be without words, without the effortless pitting of "inflection against meaning."

If only "the need to communicate" hadn't become such a cliché—if only so much of our deepest human mystery hadn't been trivialized—the worth of Miss Greenberg's fiction could be more easily appreciated. Her stories are, in fact, about the need to communicate; and, in story after story, she sets forth characters populating entirely believable, dense, frightening worlds (or visions of worlds—because her people suffer in their isolation), sometimes establishing contact with another person, sometimes reaching out but falling, sometimes falling back, selfishly, content in failure.

"The problem is deception," says the nightmare-plagued wife of "To the Members of the D.A.R.," itself a nightmarish story about the quite normal sanity-insanity of family life. But the problem is also self-deception, almost a greedy desire to fall back into isolation, ignorance, insanity; and so the paranoid farmer of the collection's title story betrays the boy he has lured into sharing his madness with him, casting him out, making him again an "object" and denying his humanity. Do we risk making others human?—do we risk ourselves, the invulnerability of our closed linguistic systems? Miss Greenberg's people struggle with this question, do not take it lightly, flippantly; it is the very question of their lives. And yet, being human, they fall continually into other states of perception.

Joyce Carol Oates, "The Need to Communicate," in Book World—The Washington Post, March 19, 1972, p. 3.

Roger Sale

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[All but one of the stories in "Rites of Passage"] are just stories, instances where the energy and trust have gone into seeing how the story can best be told and not into the characters and events themselves. The exception is the title story, about a boy who feels he has been denied the opportunity to become a man because he has been raised by maiden relatives and who leaps at a chance to prove himself by going to work on a farm. The farmer turns out to be old, broken down, paranoiac about other farmers he is sure are out to destroy him and take his land, especially about his neighbor, Koven, who he imagines to be spying on him, poisoning his stream, digging potholes in his road etc.…

[Greenberg] knows how important it is for her boy hero to gain a father…. As a result, she never tries to explain or justify the boy's eagerness to earn the trust of the old farmer or to entangle himself in the other's follies. When the boy agrees to kill the neighbor farmer, it is only his way of becoming the old man's son, and we are asked to see it only as that, to let the other or larger moral and emotional issues emanate from that, if at all.

It is, of course, only after he has committed the murder that the boy begins to realize how fearfully wrong the farmer's fantasies are. He sees first that their farm has not benefited at all from Koven's death, then that Koven could never have spied on them from his house because they live on higher land, then that the stream was polluted by the incompetence of the old farmer, and the pieces fall into a far different place from the one in which he had excitedly first put them….

At the very end of the story Joanne Greenberg resorts to a cheap, short story writer's touch, but the rest is fine, a subject worth trusting and writing such trust demands. The boy's desire not to be a loser embraces the man's insistence that they cannot win; characters and author are thus both possessed in a powerful way. "Rites of Passage" may not be a story for the ages, but I hope someone gives it a prize. (p. 4)

Roger Sale, "Whom Can You Trust?" in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XVIII, No. 8, May 4, 1972, pp. 3-4, 6.∗

Victor Howes

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Joanne Greenberg's stories concern special cases, strangers in a crowd, people cut off by loneliness and misunderstanding from the abrasive but corrective contacts of their fellows….

Sometimes Mrs. Greenberg's stories veer toward tragedy, sometimes toward the comic. Happy endings are not outside her purview, though her best and longest story, the title story, "Rites of Passage" starts happily and takes a sudden sinister bend. It is a powerful tale, involving a "Macbeth"-like folie a deux, demonstrating yet once more the principle of division of responsibility, where one partner wills the illicit act, and the other performs it.

Mrs. Greenberg's locales are mainly rural, her backgrounds frequently ethnic. When her stories have John Cheever in their sights, they falter. When they favor Willa Cather, they gain in strength….

Joanne Greenberg is not afraid to risk sentimentality. Occasionally she achieves it. But more often she comes through as an authoritative voice claiming human status and human understanding for neglected pockets of experience, buried lives, half-forgotten isolates who live, too often, on the fringes of our inattention.

Victor Howes, "Fiction: Speaking for the Stranger," in The Christian Science Monitor, August 9, 1972, p. 9.


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While [I Never Promised You a Rose Garden] was generally received well critically as a didactic work concerning mental illness, many reviewers had reservations about its value as fiction…. It soon became publicly known that the novel is not entirely fiction, of course, and in the years following these initial reviews, as the book phenomenally grew in popularity, relatively little attention was paid to it as anything other than a highly readable case history. And yet there is much evidence, both from the novel itself and from Greenberg's other works, that the book is an attempt at a coherent novel and not merely fictionalized autobiography.

In Rose Garden, Greenberg has tried to portray the often chaotic imagery of schizophrenia and the often uneven process of therapy, and to impose upon these realities of her own experience the order and structure of a unified narrative. This is not to suggest that she has deliberately misrepresented either her illness or her therapy for the sake of novelistic expediency; rather it is to suggest that the aesthetic elements of the book exist on two principle levels. For example, the imagery of mountains, which serves a number of complex functions in the context of Deborah's own schizophrenic world, is introduced into the narrative late enough so that it can also function in aesthetic terms as an image of the struggle toward sanity, toward resolution of conflict: "All Deborah heard were the sounds of her own gasps of exhaustion as she climbed an Everest that was to everyone else an easy and a level plain."… Similarly, the imagery of the underworld ("the Pit"), which seems to appear more or less at random within the context of the illness, is for the sake of the narrative organized into the more familiar aesthetic pattern of the underworld journey: descent, chaos, and purifying ascent. The danger of this kind of dual use of imagery, of course, is that it tends to lead the reader to confuse the structure of the novel with the structure of therapy, and the pattern of aesthetic imagery with the pattern of schizophrenia. Such confusion is furthered by the commonplace belief that there is some sort of de facto relationship between insanity and art, and one must wonder if in fact such works as Rose Garden are popularly read as novels about schizophrenia, or as vicarious schizophrenic experiences…. But this question is merely another way of asking the reason for the popularity of these books, and perhaps it can be in part answered by looking at the four key aspects of Rose Garden itself: characterization, structure, style and imagery, and rhetoric.

The central element in characterization … is the nature of the protagonist herself. The protagonist in Rose Garden is 16-year-old Deborah Blau, a plain but highly intelligent and witty girl whose psychosis involves an elaborately imagined, almost Blakean universe called Yr, with its own pantheon of gods, its own language, and its own landscapes. During the course of the novel, Deborah moves in both the real world and this world of her own creating. But the "real world" in this novel is the world of the mental hospital and its surroundings, a world that is in its own way as artificial as the one Deborah has created. The arbitrary and sometimes hostile nature of this reality is what provides the book's title; in warning Deborah that reality is not necessarily more rewarding than the world of Yr, and in arguing that Deborah's choice must be based on deeper criteria than mere comfort, the therapist Dr. Fried says, "I never promised you a rose garden. I never promised you perfect justice."… And in making this statement, Dr. Fried herself is reminded of her days in Nazi Germany, as if to underline to the reader the point that "reality" is not necessarily morally superior to the world of the psychotic. In fact, it is this real world, the "our-side," represented initially in the novel by the almost mythic figure of Doris Rivera, a patient who has apparently successfully "gone outside," this is the mystery. The artificial worlds of the hospital and the psychosis itself are clearly delineated; the world outside is presented only slightly near the end of the novel.

Deborah must somehow learn to function in all three worlds: her own mind, the hospital, and finally the outside. Each world has a different landscape, a different set of rules, even a different language, and in each world the character of Deborah is developed along certain lines congruent with the fictional reality of that world. And in each world, she must pass from a stage of passivity to one of self-determination and control. Put another way, Deborah must undergo a process of education on three levels: first mastering the workings of her own mind, then mastering the fairly simple rules of life with the other patients in the hospital, and finally mastering the more complex rules of life on the outside. This multifaceted educational process, together with Deborah's adolescence and her relative innocence in each situation, suggests the kind of education undergone by the adolescent protagonists of the bildungsroman. It is also, of course, a stylized version of the process of socialization in the development of any personality, and it may be for this reason that it is easy to identify with Deborah's problems, stated as they are in such bizarre terms.

Deborah is also appealing because she is essentially an heroic figure, and her Kingdom of Yr is an heroic, even mythopoeic, world. In that world, she initially seems to identify with Anterrabae, "the falling god," who is later revealed to be her own version of Milton's Satan …, with all its associations of heroic defiance, eternal punishment, and the underworld…. [She] must declare her self-mastery by renouncing all her gods and the Kingdom of Yr itself—an act which dramatically parallels the myth which gave rise to Anterrabae in the first place, and which in itself represents a kind of Promethean defiance. Deborah renounces her own security in favor of knowledge of the world and freedom; such an ideal is not uncommon in Romantic poetry and fiction.

Another reason for Deborah's success as a popular heroine is her appeal to our own fantasies of irresponsibility. Almost anything she does is excusable in the context of the fiction, and as such she represents, however perversely, a kind of absolute behavioral freedom. She doesn't necessarily get away with all her actions, but she isn't entirely responsible for them either, and it is likely that this freedom is, on a rather basic level, an example of the sort of wish-fulfillment that characterizes much popular literature. The freedom has its limits, however, and these limits seem at least in part defined by the necessity of maintaining reader sympathy. None of the violence on Deborah's part is directed at anyone other than herself, and the general absence of sexual motives and experience from her story—even though it seems likely that such experiences would comprise a significant element of her psyche—give her the aspect of the "innocent." Not even her most repulsive actions, such as her continued self-mutilation, are sufficient to remove our sympathies from her, and in this respect she is not unlike many other adolescent heroines in popular fiction.

The structure of the novel also may be a contributing factor to its popularity, for despite all its images of doom and confusion. Rose Garden is essentially comedic. There is from the outset a feeling of imminent resolution and hope; like the traditional fairy tale, elements of horror may be introduced as long as there is no overall feeling of despair. Part of this may be due to the journey motif; the suggestion of a journey naturally implies that the journey will have an end, and in the case of Deborah, this end is relative sanity (the alternative end, death, is only suggested slightly in the novel in brief references to her earlier suicide attempt). Rose Garden begins literally with a journey—the trip to the mental hospital—and continues with Deborah's movement from ward to ward and finally back out into the world. This movement, though not effortless, seems inevitable, and its inevitability is reinforced by the time sequence of the book. Deborah is in the hospital for three years, and in each of these years, springtime represents a progression towards sanity. The first spring arrives when Deborah first secures her relationship with Dr. Fried by learning that she is of value to the doctor: "'If I can teach you something, it may mean that I can count at least somewhere'."… The second spring is characterized by Deborah and her friend and co-patient Carla declaring their friendship and running away from the hospital in a show of self-assertion and fun, prompting the doctor in charge to comment, "'I'm kind of proud of you'."… The third spring, coming at the conclusion of the book, includes Deborah's successful passing of the high school equivalency exams—an act which symbolically certifies both her maturity and her sanity. The three episodes taken together constitute Deborah's learning about the value of her person to others, then asserting that value, and finally proving it with the socially accepted measure of the high school exams. She finally emerges from her private world and prepares to leave the hospital in springtime, just as she had entered it, three years earlier, in the autumn. The three years become metaphorically compressed into one cycle of the seasons, and the inevitability of this cycle—the inevitability of spring—lends to the novel an overall tone of hope.

Yet another source of popularity may be the book's imagery. The idea of the "secret garden"—the private respite from the world that is known only to the child—has long been popular in children's and adolescent literature, and it is not unlikely that Deborah's Kingdom of Yr is just such a garden to many readers. Though on a more intense level, it is not unlike Frances Hodgson Burnett's secret garden in her book of that title, or C. S. Lewis's Narnia. Its landscape is a wildly romantic, exciting one of fire and ice, and its language bears resemblance, though on a much more complex level, to the "secret codes" popular among children. In other words, Yr, though the myth of a psychotic mind, is still a myth, and as such bears strong attraction for the imagination. Thus, as we have mentioned earlier, some of the attraction that readers feel for the novel may be akin to the attractions of Blake, or Lewis, or Tolkien.

Finally, and probably most importantly to the novel's professional audience, there is the didactic element. Rose Garden has been used as a supplementary text in many university psychology courses because of its accurate dramatization of facts about psychosis and therapy…. It appears, then, that the book is widely read as an object lesson in mental illness, and that for many its value as fiction is secondary to its value as case history. And it seems likely that a didactic motive was one of the major reasons the book was written in the first place; a number of novelistic decisions seem to be made on didactic (i.e., what will teach most effectively) rather than aesthetic (i.e., what will work best as fiction) grounds. We learn a great deal more about Deborah's psychosis than we do about her actual personality, for example. Such didacticism may occasionally weaken the novel as fiction, but it probably adds to its popularity.

Rose Garden, then, brings together in a single book many of the elements that have gone into the making of a popular narrative genre. And in terms of the popular audience, it is the book most responsible for the present ascendance of that genre. Part autobiography, part fiction, part educational tract, it is in many ways one of the most significant popular books of the last twenty years. (pp. 902-06)

Kary K. Wolfe and Gary K. Wolfe, "Metaphors of Madness: Popular Psychological Narratives," in Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. IX, No. 4, Spring, 1976, pp. 895-907.∗

James R. Frakes

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 488

Few experiences are more calculated to shrivel a reviewer's heart than to read a publisher's blurb describing a new novel as "an American saga…." So it's a pleasure to discover that ["Founder's Praise"] triumphs over the epithet.

Of course, there's still the problem of the "three generations," but Joanne Greenberg … keeps the lines clear and the relationships functional throughout. And the historical sweep never calls exhausting attention to itself, World War I passing in a single paragraph. But the Dust-Bowl years are dwelt on obsessively, mote by relentless mote. And rightly so, for out of the death of the land in this southeastern Colorado farming community blossoms the "vision of the Presence" granted to Edgar Bisset and transforming him from a silent withdrawn man to an eloquent and joyful giver of life and hope. The transformation is rendered with the kind of open-eyed respect and tenderness with which Sherwood Anderson approached his simpler characters, but Edgar is not allowed to become a "grotesque"—at least not while he's alive. (p. 28)

When Edgar dies, the inevitable happens: the dancing edges toward ritual, the dancers become The Apostles of the Spirit of the Lord, "Praises" proliferate, and schisms emerge. Edgar Bisset, fallible and human in life, is turned into an icon known as "The Founder." The man who had no answers except celebration of the Presence becomes, once safely dead, the font of eternal wisdom and patristic authority.

The bulk of this darkly beautiful and disturbing novel is devoted to the rise and dissolution of this new religion [derived from Edgar's vision] and particularly to its mixed effects on those lucky and unlucky enough to be kin of The Founder…. Edgar's grandnephew decides that the mistake of the Apostles (and, one supposes, that of America) was to cherish innocence. Tough issues, but they're dealt with dramatically and persuasively in this gnarled book, which never indulges in cheap mockery or cynical patronizing of the religious impulse.

Joanne Greenberg brings unclouded vision and sureness to bear on almost everything she touches—landscapes, drought, insects, small-town insularity, family love and jealousy, the paradoxical vitality of the life-draining demands of farming. In unorthodox but refreshing fashion, minor figures are often given the sharpest insights. Charlie Dace, for example, an ex-con hired-hand, a man with "a face that left no memory," almost imperceptibly moves from the fringes to the center of the novel. Much more than just a chorus-chanter or wry commentator, Charlie grows into what Wright Morris calls a "witness."… It seems eminently right that, when "Founder's Praise" whirls to conclusion, not with the melodramatic obliteration of the Apostles but with one crippled survivor clinging to "the possibility of God" and "the wonder," we should tune out on the last page listening to Charlie reminiscing about Edgar Bisset—the complex man, not the monolithic Founder. (pp. 28, 30)

James R. Frakes, in a review of "Founder's Praise," in The New York Times Book Review, October 31. 1976, pp. 28, 30.

Paul Gray

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 385

In [High Crimes and Misdemeanors, a] collection of ten short stories, Joanne Greenberg seems eager to make things go bump in the daytime. Take the case of Aunt Bessie, a nice Jewish woman who one day stops believing in God. Watched by a cautiously admiring niece, Bessie goes on to renounce faith in banks, germs and electricity, although her unplugged television set somehow still carries whatever programs she wants to watch. Only when Bessie decides that all natural laws, including gravity, are myths does she receive her alarmingly literal comeuppance. Her niece finds her floating like a balloon about the house, being hectored and scolded by mysteriously televised rabbis. She pleads her disbelief, to no avail. "Foolish woman," a rabbi replies, "a soul goes in and out of belief a hundred times a day. Belief is too fragile to weigh a minute on. You stopped running after Him, looking for Him struggling with Him. Even His Laws you turned from!"

Although the whimsy in this story is nicely done, Bessie's punishment strikes a censorious note that is less happily picked up throughout the book. Greenberg draws a number of characters only so that she can quarter them….

Greenberg displays little of the sympathy she expended on the mentally ill in I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1964) and on the deaf in In This Sign (1972). People in these stories are self-maimed, and get treated accordingly. The artistic regimen is ascetic. "Talmudic Law," one of her characters explains, "forbids the overdecorated letter, a letter for art's sake and not for the formation of legible words." Nothing is overdecorated here; Greenberg spends little time telling where her characters live or what they look like. In one story, a parent complains about a wayward son, but it is impossible to tell whether the speaker is mother or father.

What remains clearly-legible throughout is Greenberg's complaint against contemporary society and what one character calls the "weekend-guest view of life." Aunt Bessie bobbing helplessly across her ceiling is a comic parable of the effects of freethinking, except that the author is not laughing. Her stony integrity often redeems these stories from irritating knuckle-rapping. They engage the mind, unsettle it and survive as disputatious reminders of first principles and last things.

Paul Gray, "Stony Parables," in Time, Vol. 115, No. 3, January 21, 1980, p. 89.

Hilma Wolitzer

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 263

The stories in High Crimes and Misdemeanors have a strong connecting theme—spiritual questing and questioning. Men and women consider not only the existence of a deity, but their own existential purpose, their own capacities for good and evil. Greenberg pursues this theme with startling invention and with an effective blend of mischief and melancholy….

In "Flight Pattern," a temporarily earthbound malakh (angel) longs for the "appetites and surprises" in the life of his human companion, Ben. "'Don't envy us,'" Ben advises. "'We are usually very lonely.'" And adds later, "'Don't you know that we can't shut our ears to sound or our minds to a constant bombardment of thoughts and wishes, good and bad, fantasies, old songs, bad jokes? How can you want that? It isn't free will, it's free whim!'" Eventually the malakh spreads his wings and escapes such mortal misery.

Characters in other stories work their magic, too, against the limits of their condition. Friends try to buy extra time from the CIA for a dying rabbi, and a woman adds mystical ingredients to a cake so that her frail, elderly aunts will be fortified against neighborhood crime. The rabbi appears to get better, and the aunts' terror is reduced to fear and then blooms into a fearless power. The stories bloom, too, in Joanne Greenberg's capable hands. As in all good fiction, there are no easy resolutions and no moralizing. But the reader's own beliefs and imagination are vigorously stirred.

Hilma Wolitzer, "Fables of Identity, Parables of Passion," in Book World—The Washington Post, March 2, 1980, p. 14.∗


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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 165

Although Joanne Greenberg wrote a novel which was popular with young adult readers (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden), [High Crimes and Misdemeanors] is not for most adolescent readers. The plots and characters have little with which these readers will relate….

As the title states, Greenberg's short stories deal with crimes and misdemeanors…. Whether realistic or fantastic, the stories all comment on contemporary life with an emphasis on Modern American Jewish life.

One does not have to be Jewish, however, to enjoy the writing style and the delightful characters Greenberg has created. She skillfully uses both first and third person narration, strong dialog, realistic settings, some autobiographical material, and excellent character development in these stories. Throughout, she is able to create humor and credibility, never stretching the fantasy to the unbelieveable or impossible. Mature readers will enjoy Greenberg's well-written stories and subtle comments on contemporary life.

Gerry McBroom, in a review of "High Crimes and Misdemeanors," in The ALAN Review, Vol. 7, No. 3, Spring, 1980, p. 19.

Sanford Pinsker

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 433

The ten stories of High Crimes and Misdemeanors often dazzle and always delight. They are worthy companions to the stories in Miss Greenberg's earlier collection, Rites of Passage (1972), full of the moral concern and magical twists we have come to associate with Greenberg's best work.

At least half of these most recent stories are intriguing additions to that slippery category known as American-Jewish fiction. In her stories, Jewishness is less a cultural condition than it is an unacknowledged spiritual realm. In short, she takes Jewish ideas—and more important, the Jewish God—seriously. "Certain Distant Suns" begins on a note that one would never find in a story by, say, Philip Roth: "In the end we found out that Aunt Bessie, in the fifty-sixth year of her life and three weeks before the Seder, had stopped believing in God." Rather than satirizing Aunt Bessie, by listing the contents of her refrigerator or the weave in her wall-to-wall carpeting, Greenberg lets the premise generate a condition that quickly wrenches it from the rational, the mundane, the commonsensical. Aunt Bessie's abrupt decision affects an entire family, because it was her turn to host the Passover Seder…. (pp. 511-12)

At times one suspects that too much has been sacrificed for endings that would have made crackjack installments on the old "Twilight Zone" T.V. show. "Like a Banner" is such a tale, with its composite of James Thurber's Walter Mitty (in this case, an ambulance driver who fantasizes himself as the dashing, glamorous Dr. Life) and Nathanael West's ersatzsavior, Miss Lonelyhearts, and its predictable lesson. "Flight Pattern" is another, in which a bumbling dope smuggler is hounded by a very persistent angel.

Also: One suspects there is a self-conscious, bookish character to much of Greenberg's dabbling in the supernatural, the cabalistic, the Judaically occult. On the other hand, a less encumbered story like "Merging Traffic" (a tale of separate reunions, of lives that did not touch in a high school that divided the Beautiful and the Lucky from those made of unheroic stuff, and lives that will not touch even years later) is more immediate, more powerful and much more poetic.

Nonetheless, High Crimes and Misdemeanors is worth reading and, more important, it warrants re-reading. Its stories have the rare ability to first surprise and then convince. That sort of high praise is usually restricted to very good poems. Greenberg's collection makes an impressive case that it is also appropriate to the short story. (pp. 512-13)

Sanford Pinsker, in a review of "High Crimes and Misdemeanors," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 17, No. 4, Fall, 1980, pp. 511-13.

Ruth R. Wisse

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 439

[A] convincing study of an American Jewish family in transition … is Joanne Greenberg's A Season of Delight…. [Mrs. Greenberg] has often written on Jewish subjects, and this latest work is satisfyingly mature.

Grace Dowben, its heroine, has lived for years in the Pennsylvania town of Gilboa…. Though she has other satisfactions and other worries, her own sense of responsibility for the perpetuation of [the Jewish] people runs as the unbroken theme of her life—and of this book. Even her flare-up of love for a young man in town is bound up with the desire to reawaken him as a Jew.

It should be said that the best parts of the book have nothing to do with the Jewish theme. Joanne Greenberg, who is herself a member of a fire-fighting and emergency-rescue team in the Colorado town where she lives, has included in this novel some wonderful descriptions of such a squad, of its members, its functions, and the way it works. Gilboa Fire and Rescue serves both heroine and novel as an ideal emblem of civic responsibility and creative personal activity.

On the emergency squad Grace can bring immediate relief to victims of disaster. Securing the welfare of the Jews is not so easy, especially since in this area Grace has no firm remedy to offer. Her own love of Jewish ritual and her informed appreciation of its ceremonies and teachings is not based on faith, because, as Grace admits, "Belief is a gift with us," and not one that is transferable to one's children, either. She herself is haunted by several ghosts of the murdered Jews of Europe who fight among themselves about just what sort of legacy they would have her inherit from them, but who become collectively her fiercest reason for Jewish survival. Fortunately, the author understands all the pitfalls of such an argument, and tries to parry the unspoken objections, but she still seems to need it for its emotional power. In an elaborate metaphor (for which she apologizes in advance: "Don't laugh") she compares the Jews to a hemorrhaging body, in deep and possibly irreversible shock if no immediate transfusion is forthcoming.

The book leaves no doubt about the author's or the heroine's disciplined response to this state of emergency, only about their ability to make it meaningful to others. In the book itself, Grace's influence on the younger generation is left an open question…. [The] prose is at its weakest when it tries to be most persuasive. In a work where so much else succeeds, this is particularly regrettable. (p. 86)

Ruth R. Wisse, "Rediscovering Judaism," in Commentary, Vol. 73, No. 5, May, 1982, pp. 84-7.∗

Norma B. Williamson

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 157

In A Season of Delight Mrs. Greenberg takes a woman who could fit about half a dozen popular stereotypes and exposes the unique human being beneath. Grace Dowben is a middle-aged Jewish housewife, attempting to deal with the pain and sense of loss engendered by the finality of her children's leaving home…. Her delight in her Jewish heritage is sharpened when a young man of Jewish parentage, but agnostic upbringing, joins the unit, and Grace teaches Ben the traditions rejected by her son and daughter. In time, however, Grace discovers that Ben is much more to her than a substitute for her lost son…. Mrs. Greenberg clearly believes in traditional values, along with such old-fashioned themes as good and evil, but there is humor and compassion in her treatment of both, making her always a joy to read.

Norma B. Williamson, in a review of "A Season of Delight," in National Review, Vol. XXXIV, No. 20, October 15, 1982, p. 1297.

Meg Elliott Garber

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 163

A middle-aged woman, Grace, marriage secure and happy, nest empty. A young man, Ben, 20 years younger, single, a thoughtful stranger. These are the characters who meet as paramedics on a small town ambulance, are drawn to each other, and finally grow to love each other during A Season of Delight. Joanne Greenberg has masterfully created these real people along with a host of secondary characters to play out this complicated portrayal of emotions. A Season of Delight is neither a garish, contrived plot of illicit love nor a simplistic, unrealistic romance. It is a thoughtful narrative of a woman given to self reflection….

The book is excellent, but I cannot imagine a teenager having much in it to personally identify with. Its possible value on an adolescent's reading list might be the insight it could provide into the emotions and experiences of one's mother.

Meg Elliott Garber, in a review of "A Season of Delight," in The ALAN Review, Vol. 10, No. 2, Winter, 1983, p. 27.

Robert C. Small

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 201

When Eric, a handsome, shallow, charming man in his early twenties causes a terrible automobile accident, he is changed by the event and by his shock at the easy sentence he receives. Drunk and stoned, he kills all of the Gerson family, including three children, except the mother Helen. Later during his probation, he encounters Helen and despite the tragedy that he has caused, they fall in love and marry…. [Years later,] Helen and the … [children of this second marriage] are killed in a car wreck. After his grief has lifted a bit, Eric begins to wonder whether or not Helen may have arranged their first encounter, their marriage, and the second accident in order to satisfy her fierce sense of justice….

[The Far Side of Victory is] a strange and moving book that is about guilt and penitence, at least at first, but becomes a portrait of Helen, not Eric, and of the adult life that her childhood has condemned her to. It is a book that, I suspect, readers will either admire greatly or despise. I admired it greatly.

Robert C. Small, in a review of "The Far Side of Victory," in The ALAN Review, Vol. 11, No. 1, Fall, 1983, p. 31.

Susan Dooley

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 187

What Greenberg is writing about in her gentle and perceptive book [The Far Side of Victory] is how hard it is to know the people you love—and how that knowledge, once gained, must be tenderly held….

[The Far Side of Victory] is Eric's book as he probes the mind and life of the woman he has come to love, a woman as closed as he is open. Shut into darkness by the poverty and ugliness of her childhood, she teaches him that, "There was, there must be even now, a secret race, a whole foreign race of children who yearn for school because it isn't home, whose vacations are dreaded and who watch the warming days of May creep over the desk tops with sinking hearts, made lonelier still, more bereft, because all the others count the days to summer and swarm out of the schoolhouse with joy at the end of the last day, free."

Joanne Greenberg … once more reaches to the hearts of her readers.

Susan Dooley, in a review of "The Far Side of Victory," in Book World—The Washington Post, October 2, 1983, p. 6.

Gregory Maguire

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 117

[The Far Side of Victory is dramatic] and engaging from the start…. [The] writing is clear and worth savoring. The development of a strange but powerful romance between Eric and Helen, the eventual break with their former lives, and their professional establishment in a community small enough to need them and large enough to give them room to heal are all described with patience and restraint…. Mysterious and suspenseful but rewarding in its characterization and its analysis of small-town politics and society, the book provides a subtle and complex treatment of love and growth. (p. 740)

Gregory Maguire, in a review of "The Far Side of Victory," in The Horn Book Magazine, Vol. LIX, No. 6, December, 1983, pp. 739-41.


Greenberg, Joanne