Thomas Williams Donald Hall - Essay

Donald Hall

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Followed Man is Williams' best novel, strong, beautiful, and harrowing…. [It] contains less distraction from Williams' harsh vision of things. Williams seems to have grown into acceptance of his vision, and to acknowledge it for the first time. On the one hand he continues to describe a natural world of great beauty—especially rural New England, outdoors, with its associated virtues of self-reliance, durability, and fortitude. But Thomas Williams is not making novels that resemble calendar New England, for on the other hand the strongest emotions in his novels—The Followed Man in particular—are human pain and guilt. (p. 107)

The plot … may seem as arbitrary as life itself, tilted entirely to the side of blackness. But that is not all that there is in this novel. Through everything, Carr maintains his decency, as we see him struggle to make square corners, solid walls, and a roof with the right pitch—invoking order and sanity by carpentering, much as Hemingway's fisher man fights madness by meticulous fishing. Carr is a hero in his resolute will to endure, even if endurance necessitates removal and solitude. The society he removes himself from is depraved—the society that follows him, even in the country. He struggles to avoid the guilt of complicity. (pp. 108-09)

Donald Hall, "The Best Unknown," in National Review (© National Review, Inc., 1979; 150 East 35th St., New York, N. Y. 10016), Vol. XXXI, No. 3, January 19, 1979, pp. 107-09.