Knowles, John (Vol. 4)
Knowles, John 1926–
Knowles is an American novelist and short story writer. His particular achievement has been his sympathetic examination of the problems of young adults in the Fifties and Sixties. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-18.)
For an excellent case of mechanical neatness and righteousness, consider John Knowles's little sermon Indian Summer. Like everything Knowles has written, despite his protestations, the book is a carefully constructed little machine…. Only twice in Indian Summer does Knowles fall into writing like a novelist. He has a splendid scene in Kansas, in which Kinsolving takes up a crop-duster biplane and behaves gloriously like himself—doing stupid things, nearly killing himself, and smashing all the countryside; clumsily realizing it's stupid and dangerous but delighting in it anyway, making comically sober but ridiculous observations to himself which Knowles, in the ecstasy of honest inspiration, allows to stand. The other fine moment in the novel is one in which Kinsolving first meets his brother Charley after four years.
John Gardner, in The Southern Review, Vol. V, No. 1, Winter, 1969, pp. 127-29.
I lost myself in A Separate Peace. I identified with Phineas, and I indulged fantasies that would have made even Leper Lepellier stand up and take notice. The book became my bible, a chronicle of the lost tribes of preppies who underwent the torments of youth in search for the promised self. Now, as a college student, I have read John Knowles's new novel, The Paragon, and experienced that same ecstasy of identification and understanding that I derived from A Separate Peace. For once again Knowles has created a realistic and sensitive portrayal of the confusing and sometimes terrifying predicaments of youth.
S. Alexander Haverstick, in Saturday Review/World (copyright © 1971 by Saturday Review/World, Inc.; reprinted with permission), February 13, 1971, p. 31.
John Knowles' first published novel, A Separate Peace, now a decade old, is a minor but very nearly perfect piece of work: a tight, cohesive account of the corruption of innocence that is not merely the finest "prep-school novel" but a genuine work of art. Such early success, however, has its all-too-familiar pitfalls. Since A Separate Peace Mr. Knowles has been foundering—writing with characteristic grace and intelligence, but groping uncertainly for new subjects and themes.
The uneasy process continues in The Paragon. As it happens, I like the novel very much, finding it engaging amusing and thoughtful. But for all its considerable charm, The Paragon doesn't quite come off. It is too derivative of A Separate Peace, echoing it in setting, dramatis personae, mood and theme. It is also inherently false in tone, for it is a sixties novel in a fifties setting, with resultant credibility problems that greatly weaken it….
A Separate Peace may be a miniature, but it is a wholly realized work of art in which a world is created and made believable. The Paragon attempts to re-evoke that world but ultimately lapses into imitation.
Jonathan Yardley, "A Novelist Groping," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1971 by Harrison-Blaine of New Jersey, Inc.), February 13, 1971, pp. 27-8.
John Knowles, though belonging to an older generation, speaks in [The Paragon] for the young, or at least for the offspring of middle- and upper-income Americans. Far more effectively and lucidly than Charles Reich in The Greening of America, he describes their rebellion and their disillusionment with their parents, the corporate state, the lily-white suburbs, the ecological mess, and the country's military madness. He understands their doubts. He catches their enthusiasm. He sympathizes with their hunger for genuine love and the opportunity for self-expression. Nor is he an academic hippie offering vague protest and a world of inaction held together by a kind of abstract affection. His heroes, both in his latest novel, The Paragon, and the earlier A Separate Peace , are...
(The entire section is 1,533 words.)