Kay Boyle Boyle, Kay (Vol. 5)

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Boyle, Kay (Vol. 5)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Boyle, Kay 1903–

Ms Boyle is an American novelist, poet, and short story writer, long respected for her intelligent and expertly crafted fiction. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.)

From the time of her first book in 1929, Wedding Day and Other Stories, [Kay Boyle's] fate has been occasional high praise and an occasional succès d'estime. Meanwhile, writers far less gifted have been overrated by public and critics alike. At present there are only a few books of Kay Boyle's in print; these fortunately include a hardbound edition of her novel Monday Night and paperbacks of Thirty Stories and Three Short Novels (the last containing one of the masterpieces of this genre in our time, The Crazy Hunter). Of her first novel, Plagued by the Nightingale, it is safe to say that it is the finest portrait of a French family by a writer from this side of the Atlantic since Henry James fixed his attention upon the Bellegardes in The American. Nor is it out of place to mention James here, for Kay Boyle is an important later practitioner in the area in which he worked—"the international theme." Since James, no American except Kay Boyle has concentrated so thoroughly upon that theme.

Despite the excellence of the results, however, Kay Boyle's writing career has had some severe setbacks, partly attributable to timing. She learned to write in the 1920s, when craftsmanship was important, but by the time she began turning out her full-length novels the Depression was on; instead of her subtle penetration of the behavior of Americans in Europe, readers over here wanted what seemed to be the only realities of the moment—rough stories of hunger marchers, factory slaves, or dispossessed tenant farmers. It was a time when entire social classes, rather than individuals, were of dominant interest in fiction, and it was a period when the autobiographical novel was not fashionable; consequently it didn't help Kay Boyle's cause for her to have, in most of her books, a sensitive American girl as the reflector of the action, which usually involved a group of expatriates. Now it may be seen (and I hope it will be seen) that these novels were not indulgently self-centered, not mere personal chronicles, but were rather the reworking of significant experience into fable, intensified by a prose style at once delicate and forcible. (pp. 32-3)

[She is] among the fine women authors of our time who do not write like men (as, say, Willa Cather does), but operate through a distinctly feminine vision (as Dorothy Richardson does), to capture and project experience in a unique and important way. (p. 36)

Harry T. Moore, "Kay Boyle's Fiction" (originally published in Kenyon Review, Spring, 1960), in his Age of the Modern and Other Literary Essays (copyright © 1971, Southern Illinois University Press), Southern Illinois University Press, 1971, pp. 32-6.

The fates and other bureaucracies have never quite realized how unprofitable it is to mess with writers. Throw one into jail, prompt the IRS goons to work another over, visit sickness on the family of a third, and the result is ever the same: another book. "The Underground Woman" is one of these. Kay Boyle, I understand, went to jail briefly for attempting to obstruct our recent war in Vietnam; she lost, too, a daughter to one of those horrifying communes, run as religious dictatorships, that sprouted over America in the latter half of the '60s. From these simultaneous ordeals she has wrung a novel. It is a nice, even sweet, book, clearly deeply felt and fairly humming with love and sentiment. Many readers will come away from it convinced they have read a good novel—any reader should instinctly want it to be a good novel—but it is not. Probably it shouldn't have been a novel at all….

The novel's problem lies just here. Good fiction feeds upon the particular; imprecision will dent it, a muddled goodwill toward man will corrode it absolutely. Miss Boyle generalizes her characters by identifying them with Greek myths; her...

(The entire section is 2,198 words.)