Mark Harris Melvin Maddocks - Essay

Melvin Maddocks

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Mark Harris] has returned to one of the oldest novelistic forms to relate his new story about an academic hero…. Samuel Richardson wrote the "first English novel" ("Pamela," 1939) through the narrative device of letters, which "Wake Up, Stupid" also uses.

What is more significant is that Mr. Harris has returned to tradition in attitude as well as technique. Through the apparently haphazard letters from a dozen sources that shuffle in and out as casually as day-by-day life itself, he has woven a taut thematic thread….

A bewildering number of characters make their epistolary entrances….

Yet all these characters, all these problems, and all these different Lee Youngdahls add up to one process in Mr. Harris' book—the proper way an individual should define himself, in relation to his work and in relation to the people he works with.

"Wake up, stupid"—the clarion call of a Youngdahl classroom—is one that the author directs to everybody in his novel, including Youngdahl himself. For this is a deceptively casual search for what the individual's experience has to offer when encountered with alertness, humor, and energy.

An occasional hint of smugness creeps in, as if Mr. Harris were aware how adroitly he had synthesized the rebels of yesterday and the conformists of today into the cantankerous but committed citizenship of Youngdahl. But for the most part he is delivered by a saving touch of the satirical, which makes this—with few exceptions other than one glaring crudity—an amusing as well as thoughtful portrait of a relatively new kind of hero.

Melvin Maddocks, "A Problem of Definition," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1959 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), July 23, 1959, p. 11.