This vigorous, effusive, realistic novel focuses on a family of six children. The parents, W. O. Gant, a promiscuous, alcoholic stone cutter, and Eliza, a conniving woman who is greedy to own property, have a combative marriage. Eliza buys Dixieland, a boarding house, which she runs to support herself when she leaves her husband.
Wolfe understands well the interactions of the people about whom he is writing. He writes about himself with candor and insight, detailing his coming-of-age.
In contrast to his life at Dixieland, which he loathes, is Eugene’s life at a private school run by the Leonards. Margaret Leonard recognizes Eugene’s potential and fuels his love of literature. At 15, after four years at the Leonard’s School, Eugene, now unusually tall, goes to the university at Pulpit Hill.
While he is there, his brother Ben dies. The material on Ben’s death is some of the most sensitive in the novel. Eugene finally is graduated from the university, and as the novel closes, his father, now dying of cancer, is spending his last months in a drab room at Dixieland. Eugene goes off to graduate school.
This book, huge in scope, is convincing in its realism and moving in its passion.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Thomas Wolfe. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Bloom, himself a distinguished critic, gathers in his book eight essays by seven different writers, suggesting that the...
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