Sol Yurick Critical Essays

Yurick, Sol

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Yurick, Sol 1925–

An American novelist and short story writer, Yurick creates, it has been said, "a portrait of the sight, sound, smell and taste of Urban Now, beneath the plastic." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.)

The Bag is a huge, raw novel, written with laborious, self-regarding care and turgid seriousness. It is about what American politicians euphemistically style "the problem of the cities"—not a polite English matter of traffic congestion and tree preservation but a vast, seething subworld of poverty and racial violence which threatens to erupt and engulf America itself. Mr. Yurick, indeed, imagines and predicts the eruption; the forces of indifference, dirt and animality sucking into the bag (in reality, as well as in his peculiarly squalid sexual symbolism) all those forces of well-meaning or compromised reform, or outright revolution, which have tried to tame them. His New York is engulfed in filth and nightmare as every kind of restraint and rationality is dragged into the maw….

The sheer length of The Bag, its grasp of the realities of ghetto life and of the psycho-pathology of violent revolt, the brutish (rather than brutal) realism of many of its scenes are claiming recognition for it … as a novel of profound social insight and major status. This it is not. Mr. Yurick's concern with the facts of poverty and racial conflict is quickly seen to be something more like a fascination. His urgent pounding style turns rapidly into the New Rhetoric of despair: The Bag is, in whole sequences, a heavily repetitive and sententious work. None of the knowledge, or the sympathy, for translating all this into a moving fictional warning was lacking. But Mr. Yurick has applied his intellectual prowess and personal experience to the task of assembling a sensationalist array of crudities which will neither contribute to the literature of the problem nor encourage the kind of social climate which will solve it.

"Rubbing It In," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1970; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), January 15, 1970, p. 49.

[In Someone Like You Yurick's] writing has an immediacy that evokes response and an impact that is curiously lasting. [He] writes with a subtle skill that ensures that one will read sympathetically about characters one would normally shun. This is particularly so in the fantastic 'And Not in Utter Nakedness …' which describes the birth of a baby to a member of a hippie commune. During the ecstatic labour of the girl who gives herself up to the process of natural childbirth and the hands of the man with whom she has lived for the past six months, various members of the tribe arrive to contribute both practical gifts and their loving support to the big ritual of nature. At the same time they carry on with their private concerns—singing, eating, coupling, analysing Dostoevsky, painting, drinking, drug taking. Technically authentic obstetric details and the naïve curiosity of the group, all told in the 'man … like now' idiom, make this the most gripping piece of writing I have come across for some time. (pp. 91-2)

Isha Mellor, in Books and Bookmen (© Hansom Books 1973), September, 1973.

On the verge of nervous collapse, the protagonist of [An Island Death], a professor of classics named Targ, repairs with his wife to the Mediterranean, there to rediscover, in what the narrator sardonically refers to as "the Cradle of Civilization," something of his lost commitment to his work. Arriving in Athens, Targ takes up with a Mr. Kairos, an old man whose romantic notions about the legacy of Western civilization contrast with Targ's own disillusion and cynicism…. Kairos, succumbing to a despair produced, in part, by his companion's faithlessness, takes his own life…. As the novel comes to its bloody, apocalyptic finish, Targ sacrifices himself in an irrational and blind attempt to reaffirm the kind of faith Kairos once embodied.

Needless to say, this is not the first—or the best—book to have been developed around tensions posited between a decadent, illusory "civilization" on the one hand, and a brute, destructive, "natural" order on the other. Nonetheless, Yurick's narrative, told from the point of view of Targ's encroaching madness, is a powerful one. Marred only by a few obviously contrived and declarative passages in which various characters hold forth on the nature of things, it achieves a sustained intensity that justifies the bizarre and brutal climax. Finally, though, what one misses, amidst all the novel's well-wrought, surreal goings-on, is some strain of dispassion, the presence of a detached and knowing observer, some point of view that could, in juxtaposition to Targ's frenzy, create the kind of subtlety required for a really resonant and provocative articulation of the sorts of ideas Yurick is investigating. It is, no doubt, both idle and unfair to wish that An Island Death were The Heart of Darkness; still, Yurick's failure to accommodate the complexity of the issues he himself raises leaves his book much closer to the edge of inconsequence than it need have been. (p. 27)

Jane Larkin Crain, in Saturday Review (copyright © 1975 by Saturday Review/World, Inc.; reprinted with permission), April 5, 1975.

Five years ago I learned, from the intricate patterns of his short stories in "Someone Just Like Me," or almost 10 years ago from the complex designs of "Fertig," how easy it always was to get into Sol Yurick's half-beast, half-all-too-human urban world. Once in there, I was caught ineluctably until the last labyrinthine word-structure was given me. I was haunted by the strange reality of his cityscapes, the beguiling mazes he dragged me through, because his people were more than characters. They were creations of his subtle wordplay, his seemingly inescapable logorrhea.

He had placed his hook deep within the psyches of the murderer Fertig, or in Hymie, the Jewish muscleman, or in the young man riding to his mother's deathbed from Brooklyn to the Bronx in the taxi of a driver who had lost his own 9-year-old son; to this day my memory will not surrender those characters.

So, with admiration for his past work—original, tricky, witty, complicated, deadly accurate—what do I say about this new novel ["An Island Death"] which is almost all of those things, but not quite all? Perhaps it will serve to remark that this is Yurick's most intricate creation, and that perhaps because of its allusive and hallucinatory character, it does not stick to the ribs, it avoids the memory bank and goes through the system without nourishing the imagination, without exciting the digestive and retentive mental juices. (p. 5)

The reader will puzzle over the twain identities and palimpsestic meanings. He will delight in the suggestive language but will, if he's like me, find retention a problem. (p. 10)

Doris Grumbach, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 20, 1975.