Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Kings Row is long and uneven, but it provides the reader with an engrossing, somewhat more romantic and less satiric view of “Main Street” in the late nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century. Some characters, such as Jamie Wakefield, the would-be poet, are unoriginal and insufficiently individualized to stand up, while others, notably Madame von Eln, are skillfully drawn and unique portraits. The characters and story possessed possibilities that Henry Bellamann did not always realize. He drew back at the point where Sherwood Anderson or William Faulkner would have penetrated more ruthlessly to the heart of small-town tragedy.

Bellamann did, however, attempt to show different levels of society, with the rise of some individuals and the fall of others, representing the interacting fears, hopes, and frustrations of these people. None of these individuals stands alone; the inherent dependence of human beings upon one another is a vital thread that weaves through the book from the beginning to the end.

Kings Row is presented as no idyllic country town. The scandal of the sadistic Dr. Gordon, the suppressed tragedy of Cassie Tower and her father, and the pathetic tale of Vera Lichinska, the brilliant young violinist who stops playing and comes home to Kings Row to stare at the asylum which terrified her as a child, are all skillfully woven into the dominant stories of Parris Mitchell and Drake McHugh. Some scenes, such as the peaceful death of fat, crazy old Lucy Carr, while young Parris plays the out-of-tune piano in her shanty, are perfectly handled and very moving, while other scenes do not quite succeed, but Bellamann is successful more often than not. Some human beings grow as they live, Bellamann seems to suggest, while others are incapable of growth. Yet, despite the tragedy inherent in the human condition, the town and its people endure.