Christina Stead’s novel The Man Who Loved Children buries a series of the most painful of human relationships under a welter of humor, silliness, visionary ideas, satire, and comic action and through a vivid depiction of a time, place, and social reality in the vein of Tennessee Williams. Stead has faced head on how truly awful family members can be to one another, where character is formed and distorted by relationships. She solves the problem without losing her readers. This is a novel of excess: excessive talk, excessive and often trivial action made exciting, excessive domestic tension that often leads to violence or fainting or people hiding from others in their rooms. Its excesses, however, arise from the natures of its central characters and from the style of the whole, which has been described as domestic gothic.
All of the excesses begin with Sam Pollit, who characterizes himself as Sam-the-Bold and is a bubbling amalgam of the American dreamer, at once an ideal yet awful father, a truly horrible husband, and a person happy to be driven by his obsessions. Sam is selfish, exercising his wild imagination with almost no care for others. He ruins his career and takes the family into poverty all the while babbling in made-up languages to the children and running about his houses fixing and experimenting, and spouting vague internationalist ideas and scientific predictions of the future. He is still a child in his thirties, and at the close...
(The entire section is 496 words.)