Ronald L. Fair Shane Stevens - Essay

Shane Stevens

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Unlike his earlier "Many Thousand Gone" (1965), wherein [Ronald Fair] loosely told of a fictionalized Mississippi community, and "Hog Butcher" (1966), which viewed the effect of a police killing of several blacks, "World of Nothing" is tightly controlled. Its power and immediacy come as much from its landscape as from its prose.

"Jerome," the first of the two novellas [within "World of Nothing,"] is a tale of sin and damnation amid the hypocrisy of modern religion….

The mixture of fantasy and reality, the weaving of a modern counterpoint into an ancient fable are handled with great artfulness. In lesser hands, "Jerome" could have been a disaster. I would class it among the best short novels of the year.

The title novella, "World of Nothing," almost equally impressive, tells of a young black man in Chicago. In its depiction of the aimless existence of the neglected, the desperate struggle of the oppressed, the hot-wire emotions of the hated, it recalls Algren and Farrell….

Where is this world of nothing? Why, if you're black, it's all around you … "a world where the only white face is an occasional policeman or the peddler or the store owner…. But mostly it's all black. It's even black when the sun beats down on our shiny faces; the rays seem to soak into our world and shatter and form a black cloud that hangs like a gloomy continuation of might symbolic of the segregate quarters wherein we eat and laugh and love and cry and live and die."

In this day of self-advertisements and racial nonbooks, truly fine writing seems almost a revolutionary act. In this sense, "World of Nothing" is a revolution in itself.

Shane Stevens, "Two Novellas on Black Themes: Under the Masks, Humanity Prevails," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 23, 1970, p. 28.