Peter (Francis) Straub The Times Literary Supplement - Essay

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Marriages] is a pastiche' of almost every notable American novel written about Europe, from J. P. Donleavy's Ireland to Henry James's Paris, but [Mr Straub] anticipates any criticism of overliterariness or derivativeness by using those qualities as a conscious and essential ingredient….

With so many echoes and resonances, it is remarkable that Mr Straub retains a distinctive voice in the story. His story of an American businessman living in Europe, and his love affairs with his wife and mistress, is intricately controlled and focused; the complex series of flashbacks and time-cuts coheres because every time, place, or emotion is fully evoked. Everything is named and labelled, from Dublin streets to London restaurants, with the exception of "the woman" at the very centre of it.

Owen's affair with this woman forms the central thread of the book, but a whole cloth of other marriages and relationships has been woven round it. An accidental tug on the central thread causes all the others to vibrate, as Owen recalls his courtship of his wife, their wedding presided over by an ominous criminal, the various marriages of her relations, and his strange life in London.

Mr Straub has already published two books of poetry, and he is what is commonly called "a poetic novelist", with the fine sense of the weight of words which every novelist should have, and which many poets lack. It may be this skill which enables him to place so securely the sense of gesture, and the texture of atmosphere, which characterize Marriages.

"Poet's Prose," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1973; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3707, March 23, 1973, p. 313.