Vincent Canby Hollis Alpert - Essay

Hollis Alpert

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Film critics who write novels are often suspected of trying to enter the world of filmmaking through the back door. In Vincent Canby's case, let us dispose of the suspicion. His first novel, [Living Quarters,] although it begins with an act of violence, soon turns into a recounting of the life, loves, and schizophrenia of a madcap heiress from the Midwest. (p. 26)

Mr. Canby's prose is flat and dry, glinting now and then with satiric, disenchanted humor. The book's method is that of remembered gossip, told in monotone, but not monotonously. Little in the way of sympathy is allowed any of the characters—so careful is the author in keeping any sentiment or unseemly emotion from coloring the tale. All incidents of the past, he seems to be saying, have the same weight in memory, whether it be a failed movie actress who takes her life or a jaded Frenchman who suffers the embarrassment of a dog's suddenly urinating against his leg. The text might have been taken from Ecclesiastes: All is vanity. Yet Daisianna, caught in off-hand glimpses that add up to a portrait, emerges as memorable, as does an aspect of America that no longer knows where it is going. Mr. Canby doesn't reach for very much with his first novel, but what he gives us is done with professional care and an amused appreciation of the not always lovable quirkiness of his characters. (p. 27)

Hollis Alpert, in Saturday Review (© 1975 by Saturday Review/World, Inc.; reprinted with permission), March 8, 1975.