Mixed Company

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Alan Shapiro’s art is consistently evocative while often remaining sparse in imagery. His strength comes from an enormous power of intelligent perception—a gracefully unfolding, sinuous syntax and an unusual eloquence underscored by effective poetic shaping. Always, Shapiro is attentive to the centrality of voice in human personality and community.

In the last third of his book, Shapiro moves beyond gender difference to consider the destructive distinctions of class, race, and ethnicity. Several poems have to do with the kinds of knowledge and acceptance the speaker has found in relationships with blacks.

MIXED COMPANY also contains an astonishing “long poem” grouping. This section includes “Friend,” which explores whether men and women can be close friends without romantic complications upsetting things; “In the Land of Inheritance,” which retells a biblical story of guilt, expiation, and unfathomable justice; and “Manufacturing,” a reminiscence of the belt-making industry that reveals the crude commercial motives inherent in the language of business.

The title MIXED COMPANY reminds readers of how certain things said among men are not said in the presence of women. By extension, it suggests that what passes for an acceptable code within a group (race, class, ethnic background) is not readily or pleasantly sharable beyond that group. Shapiro reminds readers that they are always in mixed company, and he helps readers reconsider what degrees of mixing, blending, and homogenization are possible in human relationships and discourse.

Sources for Further Study

Charlotte Observer. March 24, 1996, p. C6.

Library Journal. CXXI, March 15, 1996, p. 75.

Richmond Times-Dispatch. November 3, 1996, p. K4.

The Virginia Quarterly Review. LXXII, Autumn, 1996, p. 136.

The Yale Review. LXXXIV, October, 1996, p. 158.