Michael Shaara Richard Rhodes - Essay

Richard Rhodes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The author spars like Hemingway through much of this first novel ["The Broken Place"] about a soldier-prizefighter who kills a man in the ring. It's probably inevitable. Writers are mostly violent people who act gentle. When a writer is a gentle person who acts violent, as Michael Shaara seems to be, Hemingway is one of the few guides available….

McClain [Mr. Shaara's protagonist] is strong and silent, lives in a cabin on a mountainside, hunts in the early morning. It's still good coinage, whatever the original mint.

Yet the best of "The Broken Place" suffers from no such deprivation. When Mr. Shaara writes at ringside he writes as well as anyone around. He makes McClain an outstanding fighter, intelligent and deadly; he shows us how that kind of fighter fights, then shows us why….

McClain's is a rare sickness, and more rarely still does someone write it truly. Mr. Shaara generates fits of murderous rage at least as well as Hubert Selby Jr., and somewhat better than Truman Capote. Having done so, he seems ready to explain McClain's violence away. But answers proliferate in his search for them, and we get so many that none is conclusive….

Mr. Shaara piles up these reasons for his killer drive because he knows it's that complex. He's right. We are all that resilient; we require that much provocation before we are capable of killing….

For all its early sparring, "The Broken Place" doesn't pull its final punches. Michael Shaara, one novel in, comes on at least as a middleweight.

Richard Rhodes, "Boxer Gone Beserk," in The New York Times, Section VII (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 7, 1968, p. 36.