Richard Elman J. Mitchell Morse - Essay

J. Mitchell Morse

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

An Education in Blood is psychologically valid. Bernard Eastover, having been convicted of murder three times and finally on a fourth try acquitted, has all but convinced himself that he is innocent. Stephen Tolmach, a journalist young enough to be his son, persuades him to talk out the story of his life: a story of hatred for a puritanical father, liberation in college, guilt, dates, guilt, courtship, guilt, marriage, guilt, delightful adultery, guilt guilt guilt, dutiful and increasingly irksome sex at home, guilt disgust guilt, parenthood, guilt, madness, guilt, murder, guilt, madness, guilt, madness, guilt … it becomes increasingly evident that he may very well murder his second wife … but Stephen—good boy!—takes her away, hurrah…. As you can see, I'm having some difficulty taking An Education in Blood as seriously as my cerebral cortex tells me it deserves; but I don't live by the cortex alone, and my ear and the rhythms of my body tell me this book doesn't work. Abstractly yes, concretely no. Toward the end Stephen too is going nuts, and I sympathize, I sympathize. Much of the dialogue is believable, but Eastover's is not; he is, to be sure, presented as an artificial affected bastard, but his compound-complex and periodic sentences are beyond any possibility of belief; they abuse our good will. The worst falsities of language, however, are not his but Elman's. (p. 536)

J. Mitchell Morse, "Fiction Chronicle: 'The Death of Love'," in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1971 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Autumn, 1971, pp. 535-38.∗