Dahlberg is a brilliant writer, the master of a rich, rhythmic, yet mournful prose, quite unlike anything in American literature, except Melville, perhaps, whom Dahlberg, typically, does not admire. Like Rousseau, the refractory Dahlberg has been, as he says, ""ravished by melancholia""; like Augustine, a ""hapless prey of venery."" It is good to invoke such august names, since these latter-day confessions -- though outwardly merely the tale of a bohemian's progress from Kansas City to New York, the adventures of an autodidact seemingly in perpetual indigence (""the patron of authors is penury""), a catalogue of intellectual and sexual travail during the Twenties and Thirties -- have less the accent of contemporaneity than that of some legendary figure magically (and miserably) thrust into the modern world. A note of oracular sadness, chagrin, and cantankerousness (Edmund Wilson, ""the St. John the Baptist of our literati mediocriter,"" is among the many Dahlberg inveighs against), studded with classical and Biblical allusions, give to the bare, battered bones of Dahlberg's lite a mythic luster, an exhilarating sweep often transcending the dour and difficult temperament of the man himself. As John Wain says: ""In any other writer this downpour of Old Testament references would be a matter of mere stage-setting; but not in Dahlberg. . . . The story of his wanderings is, to him, a legend no less brimming with fabulous significance because it happened within living memory and to him personally."" The wonder, of course, is that a man so ill at ease with himself and his era, so crucified by ""naked truth,"" by youthful woes (""I would drink the cup of Lethe to forget the scorifying Thirties. Why did I become a Communist?""), can, looking over his troubled past, write in so stately a style. A triumphant work.