Rosa Guy Victor P. Hass - Essay

Victor P. Hass

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Rosa Guy knows Harlem's] hopes and its desperations, its ugliness and its bits of beauty, its reeking squalor, sights, sounds, drunks, drifters, and the occasional patches of happiness sewn on the garment of its over-all awfulness. All of these things are woven into the fabric of her punishing first novel ["Bird at My Window"].

She makes Wade Williams, the tragic anti-hero of her story, as real as a toothache….

Wade's tragedy was that he was born with the IQ of a genius but, for all the chance in life he had, he might as well have been born an idiot. Once, just once, Wade was given a chance "to make something of himself" but thru fear and inexperience he fumbled it and no other chance presented itself….

Society did need him for World War II and it found the black rages to which he was subject made him an appallingly efficient killer in uniform. But after the shooting stopped, society lacked the patience and understanding to unmake its machine of destruction. It sent its de-uniformed killer back to Harlem….

It can be argued, of course, that other remarkably efficient killers made the transition from war to peace without too much difficulty but what Mrs. Guy seems to be saying is that they perhaps didn't have to cope with doors slammed in their faces, racial prejudice, lack of opportunities, and ghetto life.

It would be idle to suggest that you can enjoy "Bird at My Window" in any acceptable definition of that word but it is possible, nevertheless, to admire the way she has translated into living terms [Henry David] Thoreau's inspired phrase "quiet desperation." This is her triumph and it is by no means a small one.

Victor P. Hass, "A Case of Quiet Desperation" (reprinted by permission of the author), in Books Today, Vol. II, No. 7, February 20, 1966, p. 6.