Vincent Canby Webster Schott - Essay

Webster Schott

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Living Quarters" is the story of a charmingly psychotic woman in the deranged late 20th century. It's told in language that shimmers. It's a story that emerges from plots that explore human longing, suffering and pleasure among the civilized on three continents as though seeking a statement about a condition beyond articulation….

If I understand "Living Quarters" correctly, it suggests, while offering champagne-and-acid entertainment, that the present environment requires a streak of madness if you want to live in it at all. Deception, betrayal, exploitation, faithlessness are bred into us by our surroundings, along with our drinking habits and a drive to be made whole through the uses of the flesh. We need not wonder why Daisianna gets off scot-free. Vincent Canby's society cultivates all kinds of nuts.

Meanwhile, despite his confirmation of what tolerant people have been thinking for some time, Canby gives us art, so that we can taste the truth and not find it unbearably bitter. His novel explodes with forms and techniques: pictures of places that look like paintings, intense short stories and strange yarns that surface briefly in the midst of other events, home movies and scenarios, vivid tableaux of families, characters moving as though documented on film.

Some of the pleasure of this novel lies in seeing Canby build this jeweled structure that goes backward and forward in time as it reports on society's mental health by watching the weather inside human heads. But most of the pleasure won't submit to scrupulous examination: it's inherent in the novel in a larger sense. Canby creates a world; he makes people live there, luxuriating in desire, waste, comic boredom. And he insists that we believe and understand them by almost becoming them—he has that power….

Vincent Canby's film criticism in The Times shows that he was born to think and to write. This first novel says that he may have been born to write fiction. (pp. 4-5)

Webster Schott, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 13, 1975.