Norma Fox Mazer Mary M. Burns - Essay

Mary M. Burns

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In A Figure of Speech] the euphemisms which cloak the attitudes of the middle-aged and the young toward the elderly are presented as a series of shabby self-deceptions…. [The book's narrator, Jenny,] has always felt alienated from her short-sighted, thoroughly middle-class family. Her one bulwark is her grandfather, who came to live with the family the year Jenny was born and, feeling as unwanted as she, virtually raised her to adolescence. Shifting the focus between Jenny and her grandfather, the narrative chronicles the climactic weeks in the crowded Pennoyer household following the elder son's arrival with his new bride. His indulgent parents plan to move the old man into a nursing home so that the young couple can have the basement apartment. The denouement is tragic, not simply because the old man dies but because Jenny cannot reconcile her family's post-mortem commentaries with their actions toward the man who had once lived with them. The subordinate characters are seen primarily from Jenny's and the grandfather's points of view; they are one-dimensional types, hypocritical and unlikeable…. Yet, the tendency toward melodramatic oversimplification is offset by the significance of the situation and by the crusty personality of grandfather, who refuses to "go gentle into that good night." (pp. 152-53)

Mary M. Burns, in her review of "A Figure of Speech," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1974 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. L, No. 2, April, 1974, pp. 152-53.