W. O. Mitchell Walter Havighurst - Essay

Walter Havighurst

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

This ardent but unsure first novel [Who Has Seen the Wind] portrays a number of people in [a town on a Saskatchewan prairie]…. The story centers about Brian O'Connal and the growing years of his boyhood.

Brian had a curiosity about all sorts of things, from gophers to God. Though he couldn't put it into words, he was especially curious about the cycle of life….

Every street in the town ended in the open prairie, and every moving experience in the boy's life led him to an elusive meaning that he longed to grasp….

Where Brian is concerned this is a seeking book. Like many first novels, it describes the growing pains of youth and the enlarging claims that the mind and heart make on the world….

Probably all the people in the town had some part in Brian's attempt to figure things out. Still, the novel suffers from diffusion…. Certain episodes, like the exploding of Old Ben's still in the church basement during the minister's sermon, are low farce, out of key with the theme of a novel in which the wind is "symbolic of Godhood."

Yet there is freshness and credibility in the O'Connal family…. There is undeniable human nature in some of the townspeople, and there is a haunting quality about gray-eyed young Ben gazing over the prairie….

If this novel is not as good as its material, and as the author's feeling for his people, it may be because the narrative lacks the long, sustained rhythms, the flowing lines, of the prairie itself….

It seems as if the author had not quite decided whether to write a book about a boy's search for significance, or a prairie Winesburg.

Walter Havighurst, "Saskatchewan Prairie," in New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), March 2, 1947, p. 10.