Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Reynolds Price published thirteen books before Kate Vaiden appeared. Five of these were novels, including his much-heralded A Long and Happy Life (1962). He had produced as well two collections of short fiction, two of poetry, a translation of thirty stories from the Bible, two plays, and a collection of essays.

He finished the first third of Kate Vaiden the day before he had surgery for a spinal cancer that nearly killed him, the aftermath of which left him without the use of his legs. In an effort to control the incredible pain he was enduring, Price underwent a course of hypnotism that was aimed at helping him control his pain through posthypnotic suggestion.

The result of this treatment was that Price was put in touch with vivid memories of his early life, going back as far as the first few months of his existence. The result was an outpouring of writing, including his autobiography, Clear Pictures: First Loves, First Guides (1989). Kate Vaiden assumed a new shape following Price’s hypnotism and, upon publication, became both his greatest commercial success and a notable artistic triumph, winning the National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction.

In Kate Vaiden, Price connects with many of the feminist concerns of the 1980’s, although he does so without overt intention: that is, he did not set out to write a feminist tract. Rather, his picaresque narrative, his occasional use of epistolary technique in the revelation of plot, and his graceful use of flashbacks all result in a book that was precisely right for its time.