Thomas Williams Linda Kuehl - Essay

Linda Kuehl

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Tsuga's Children begins: "Once there was a family named Hemlock who lived, in another time, near the base of Cascom Mountain …". Into the Hemlock family's timeless environs—the distilled setting for Thomas Williams's allegorical tale—comes an ancient, dark personage who does not use her tongue to speak or her eyes to see. She moves into the Hemlocks' humble home and lures the children, Arn and Jen, to the valley of a dark mountain inhabited by an immortal race called Old People. There they become spiritual children of the legendary Tsuga…. Through initiation and trial by fire, Arn and Jen attain ultimate knowledge of that which is beyond the utterable and the visually verifiable.

Surely the universality of such a theme and the simplicity of the storytelling should not offend one. Yet this reader was put off by the author's indulging himself in lofty themes that students of literature fondly embrace as mirror evidence of their own superior sensibilities and noble natures. The same preciousness is found in Williams's prior novel, The Hair of Harry Roux…. Both Roux and Tsuga are bathed in self-congratulatory virtue. While in Tsuga the implication of myth is manifestly present, it cannot work its intended spell, for magic and wonder do not illuminate or attend it.

Linda Kuehl, "Books in Brief: 'Tsuga's Children'," in Saturday Review (© 1977 by Saturday Review Magazine Corp.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 4, No. 20, July 9, 1977, p. 36.