Kirkus Reviews QR Code
UNLESS SOUL CLAP ITS HANDS: Portraits and Passages by Erika Duncan

UNLESS SOUL CLAP ITS HANDS: Portraits and Passages


Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Schocken

Duncan, who writes regularly for the quarterly Book Forum, offers earnest, soulful, often platitudinous appreciations--some with interviews--of ""authors who have moved her personally and artistically."" The least off-putting are the sketches of Greenwich Village doyenne Marguerite Young (Miss Macintosh, My Darling) and William Goyen--which balance the limp literary-comment (""Goyen is taking us on a spiritual voyage in the quest for God and for illumination"") with some evocative close-up details. Elsewhere, however, Duncan's moist, romanticizing enthusiasms dominate--chiefly in undiscriminating essays on women writers, many of them heroes in the radical/feminist/lesbian spectrum: Tillie Olsen (""I am amazed at how a lifetime of caring about other people, will, and passion bursts out of every word that is expressed""); Meridel Le Sueur (""And then at last the prose turned into poetry, staying in the poetic shape, until, no longer rent with images of dark pit shafts or the familiar bible songs, but born out of darkness looking fox light, it turned into its own song""); lesbian guru Charlotte Wolff (""A lover of all that is vibrant, imaginative, and wild, of the illusion and throbbing pulse of life the artist makes to mitigate the inevitable emptiness""); Mary Webb--in a long, unconvincing paean to her novels, ""books which ask over and over the most elemental questions and attempt to answer them in the elucidation of the meaning of each tree, each howling wind and mountain to those humans who dwell in their aura""; poets Kathleen Raine, Olga Broumas, David Gascoyne; plus, perhaps inevitably, Djuna Barnes. And this slight volume concludes with two similarly verbose and murkily inspirational sermonettes--on ""impassioned reviewing"" and ""intellectual risk-taking."" Only for equally uncritical, feverish admirers of the writers in question.