Julius Horwitz Jane Miller - Essay

Jane Miller

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Considering that [Natural Enemies] is about the awfulness of a marriage, of middle age and of pretty much everything that is going on these days, it manages to be disconcertingly original. Its preoccupations are Western, but its artistry and compression go well with its implicit acceptance of the Buddhist belief that all evil resides in the individual's will to stay alive. Paul Steward, the successful owner and editor of a magazine called The Scientific Man, wakes up one morning and loads his gun. He plans to shoot his wife, his three children and himself at the end of the day. The novel is a lucid record, stylish and abbreviated, of the events of that day, his last one and representative of all his days. Packed between long train journeys to and from New York are conversations he has with strangers, with his messianic contributors, with five haranguing whores, with a deliciously compliant lady, with his best friends: a famous psychologist and a famous expert on catastrophe….

The novel works so well because the vision of the world provided by the hero's disintegration is always understandable as the product of his state of mind and the circumstances of his life….

It is easy to make the novel sound too big for its boots, but that is exactly what it is not. Crammed explosively into the tricky plot and teasing, innocent dialogue is a turbulent inner life. There is a temptation to look for strain in a novel so contrived and violent, but, strangely, it evades that criticism.

Jane Miller, "The American Disease," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1975; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3841, October 24, 1975, p. 1255.