Roger Kahn Michael J. Bandler - Essay

Michael J. Bandler

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The subject of veteran journalist-sports essayist Roger Kahn's first novel ["But Not to Keep"] is the interrelationship between two evolving institutions, one threatened, the other on the advance. The institution seemingly on the verge of collapse—or at least somewhat battered—is marriage. The one that appears to be holding its own is fatherhood, especially the single-parent variety.

Writing from an autobiographical perspective—if one takes as fact the personal details in the author's last book, "A Season in the Sun"—Kahn has fashioned a sober glimpse of contemporary society that is at once an indictment and a benediction. It sharply criticizes those forces—primarily the legal community and the courts—that compound the anguish inherent in a divorce and resultant custody proceedings. And yet, it blesses the supposed victims, the survivors—the sundered couple and the offspring—without casting stones at one parent or the other….

Kahn has never been known, in his previous writings, to hew to a narrow theme, and his first venture into fiction is faithful to that broad pattern. He confronts other beleaguered institutions, such as religion and race, and vents himself on the hypocrisy and bigotry that incessantly pollute the rarefied air of "Society." He offers caustic impressions of intellectual snobbery, and—in a brief but telling broadside—bites the hand that feeds him by spoofing publishers' quests for the surefire best-seller.

"But Not to Keep" is a novel about traditions. Clear away the prejudice, bitterness, and violence that Mr. Kahn uncovers and what remains is another tradition—marriage—wrecked on seemingly inconsequential shoals. The consequences, though, loom largest for the young survivor of that split. He needs to be understood. In this sensitive, occasionally frustrating, yet honest and credible first novel, Roger Kahn obliges.

Michael J. Bandler, "Tradition under Judgement," in The Christian Science Monitor, July 18, 1979, p. 19.