(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

The novel is an amazingly flexible form, able to encompass enormous differences of vision, sensibility, and technique. It can embrace the tightly plotted melodrama of an Agatha Christie thriller, the plotless ramblings of a Céline or a Henry Miller, the verbal complexities of a Joyce, the philosophical explorations of a Sartre or a Dostoevski, the vast social scope of a Tolstoy or a Dickens, the elegance of a Fitzgerald, the ambiguity of a Proust or a James.

In his third novel, Wrinkles, Charles Simmons has approached the problems of fictional narrative from his own unique point of view. Simmons writes the way Seurat painted: with hundreds of tiny strokes, nearly indistinguishable up close, but, at a distance, forming a vivid, complicated picture—in this case the portrait of a man. In clear, precise prose, wonderfully descriptive without being either rhetorical or poetic, thoughtful without pretension, he methodically exposes both the inner and outer lives of his unnamed protagonist. It is an extraordinary study, full of the meannesses and generosities, the aches and pains of real life, in which every reader will catch a startling glimpse of himself.

This unusual novel does not move through time in any of the conventional ways; it does not progress chronologically from first page to last, nor begin at some midway point and flash backward and forward. Simmons focuses on his hero’s life and reveals its sum through its particular parts, each one remembered by the child he was, understood by the middle-aged man he is, and seen in the future by the old man he will become. Although each aspect of this man’s life is precisely detailed and particularized, the details together form the life of a kind of modern, urban Everyman struggling to cope with his own deficiencies and those of the world.

Wrinkles is the portrait of a man in his middle fifties (probably based on the author—the narrative has some of the feeling of a man scrutinizing himself in a mirror) who is separated from his wife and two daughters and is living alone in New York City. It is told in forty-four chapter-length vignettes, each of which examines (and reexamines and examines yet again) a relationship, an attitude, or an abstract subject made concrete. Thus, we see the hero (or antihero?) pondering love, sex, birthdays, religion, clothes, homosexual experiences, marriage, drinking, his best friends, his mistresses, laughter, human bodies, faces, favorite possessions, wrinkles, and finally, death. Each of the segments of the book can be construed as a wrinkle in the fabric of time, a wrinkle in his life, and the stuff of which wrinkles themselves are made. This full-face, full-length, uncompromising study of a man would be painfully honest were it not composed with such restraint and evenness of tone. How many people have the courage to confront themselves, warts and all, so openly and bluntly, and to examine the excitements and ambitions, the apathies and confusions and dreads of a lifetime? How many of us could resist a slight cover-up of some of life’s wrinkles?

The narrator—who, technically, at least, is not necessarily the same as the protagonist—explores the relationships between events and actions and attitudes and seeks to draw comparisons and reach conclusions. Life for him (and for the hero?) falls into patterns. He seems to enjoy discovering these patterns and speculating on their significance. Perhaps an appropriate subtitle for this short novel would be Patterns. Self-knowledge is the issue here, a quantity which is more valuable than wealth or even happiness. At one point, Simmons writes that his protagonist will come to understand that most people have as hard a time in life as he. There is a world of compassion in these lines, a sense of the frailty of human creatures, and a degree of love...

(The entire section is 1573 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

Atlantic. CCXLII, October, 1978, p. 116.

Harper’s Magazine. CCLVII, December, 1978, p. 83.

Kirkus Reviews. XLVI, July 15, 1978, p. 775.

Library Journal. CIII, September 15, 1978, p. 1768.

Nation. CCXXVII, September 30, 1978, p. 320.

New Yorker. LIV, November 20, 1978, p. 233.

Time. CXII, October 30, 1978, p. 129.