Thomas Williams Jerome Klinkowitz - Essay

Jerome Klinkowitz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Thomas Williams is the kind of novelist you keep calling "a young writer." He won a National Book Award for "The Hair of Harold Roux," and "Town Burning" and "Whipple's Castle" added to his reputation. Then you realize he's 52 years old, a distinguished college professor publishing his eighth book, and well on his way to being "remembered."

Most authors have to die, or stop writing, to make that grade. But every so often a novelist comes along who can win immortality with one foot still planted in the day-to-day world. Williams is trying to do that now, and with "The Followed Man" he comes closer to success than most other popular writers with such high literary hopes….

In this book, people with good stories to tell are allowed to tell them, and Thomas Williams keeps it all under firm control. His novel is written out of the accumulated wisdom of a modern lit professor, and occasionally he risks showing off how much Frost, Faulkner, Cheever and Updike he knows. But Williams also knows when to stand back and let life play itself out and form its own rules.

The book's only totally hopeless character is, appropriately, an English prof who hasn't learned this lesson. A writer himself, this poor soul is utterly forgettable. But Thomas Williams deserves to be remembered, while being blessed with many years to write more novels as good as this one.

Jerome Klinkowitz, "A Man Alone—Alone with Death," in The Chicago Sun-Times (reprinted with permission of The Chicago Sun-Times; and the author), October 1, 1978, p. 11.

The attentive, detail-laden prose of this someber tale [The Followed Man] shares many of the virtues of [the protagonist's] hand-built cabin: it is sturdy, attractive, and provides warmth in a chilly environment. But faults in the construction—frequent coincidences, occurrences that lead nowhere—point out the ordinariness of a plot full of sex and violence, and despite the cast of cowed and snarling characters, it is never quite possible to believe in Luke's paranoia. Disappointingly, The Followed Man lacks the depth as well as the complexity of Williams's award-winning The Hair of Harold Roux.

"Life & Letters: 'The Followed Man'," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1978 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 242, No. 6, December, 1978, p. 94.