Email this review


It is no accident that the best of the essays in Writing Against Time appeared originally in The New Yorker. As a critic, Howard Moss is concerned principally with sensibility and tone, the Proustian ""intermittences of the heart,"" rather than the heavier stuff of structural analyses or historical alignments. What he has to say about Glenway Westcott's The Pilgrim Hawk (""Murder-admirers, the Cullens have not succeeded in domesticating each other, in killing each other, or in freeing themselves"") is not very different from his allusion to the psychology behind Katherine Anne Porter's stories: ""Since we cannot leave each other alone, it is not always as easy as it looks to tell the victim from the victimizer."" Even the long tribute to Daniel Fuchs' novels of the Thirties rests less on the author's proletarian or social veracity than his way with creating comic or poignant ineffectuality: Fuchs' ""Characters do not know how to say what they mean; often they do not even know what they mean."" All of these remarks are apt, civilized, and neatly put; they show Moss' abiding interest in the small ironies of the divided self or the many changes that can be rung on the theme of human relationships. When larger possibilities arise, they too are met with commonsensical finality; of Ship of Fools: ""Every major character is magnetized in time by the opposing forces of need and order."" The poetry of Elizabeth Bishop is praised for its conversational style, the doom-laden jigs of Dylan Thomas become elegantly choreographed: he was, says Moss, ""Not only stumbling and bumbling his way to the grave, but digging it for himself in the process. . . ."" Articulate, poised, aphoristic--but there's more to criticism than that.

Pub Date: July 30th, 1969
Publisher: Morrow