THE WORK OF AN ANCIENT HAND by Curtis Harnack

THE WORK OF AN ANCIENT HAND

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Curtis Harnack's short stories and some parts of this book have appeared in little magazines and quarterlies. Set in the farmlands of Iowa from the time of the Depression to the post-war era, this first novel is, essentially, an ambitious attempt to record the process of life itself. As a chronicle of several lives which are touched by similar circumstances and altered in different ways the book is more successful in its parts than as a whole. Its structurally unifying element is supposed to be the progression of Kaleburg's minister from a state of non-belief, or a belief which has been meaningless, to a point where he can validly say, ""I believe in God"". Between these two points in the events of nearly a dozen lives, encompassing two generations, there are developed themes of estrangement -- misunderstandings between fathers and sons, husbands and wives; desperations-resulting in suicide, alcoholism or renewed strength; tentative adolescent realizations which either mark beginnings or settle fates; humor -- both touching and bizarre; and, throughout, the basic and harsh facts of farm life. As a novel, the book's fault lies in its lack of unity: the device of the minister, weaving in and out of people's lives, never touching them but being touched by them, proves to be insubstantial. As a series of related short stories held together by setting and time and the tenuous presence of Vernon Kallsen the effect would be convincing. It is nevertheless an immediate, vital book characterized by a depth of understanding which is remarkably telling.

Pub Date: March 16th, 1960
ISBN: 0595092276
Publisher: Harcourt, Brace