Russell Edson Peter Schjeldahl - Essay

Peter Schjeldahl

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Edson is a long-time practitioner of the "prose poem," that strange modern form or non-form favored by many writers for its ability to give matter-of-fact access to imaginary realms. Edson's are broad, small surrealistic fables and tales that deal in anthropomorphic animals and objects, metamorphoses, obscure acts of violence, cosmic anxieties enacted on miniature sets. Many have the sustained wackiness of old Warner Brothers cartoons. Their appeal is direct and obvious; they are precious in the good or in the bad sense, depending on one's taste or mood. (I've always liked coming across them in magazines; they please me less in bulk.) Edson comports himself a bit winsomely, perhaps, in his through-the-looking-glass world, but what happens there often has a ring of subjective truth. I can imagine his work reaching a wide audience not ordinarily interested in poetry. (p. 69)

Peter Schjeldahl, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 1, 1977.

Although the fifty-five short prose-fables of Russell Edson's The Reason Why the Closet-Man is Never Sad are presented in alphabetical order it is just possible that the work has an intended fictional unity, involving a number of dramatis personae who are made to undergo dreary and inconsequential non-experiences….

Most of the pieces begin in a bright, buttonholing way, promising sometimes lyrical, sometimes fantastic or nightmare developments…. But the actual narrative developments are almost invariably flaccid bits of whimsy in which there is little of the sustained energy of art….

Mr Edson's personae, their situations, and the nerveless language in which they are manipulated are so devoid of living characteristics that it is difficult for a reader to summon up sympathy enough to care. (p. 848)

The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London), 1977; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), July 15, 1977.