LUCIFER WITH A BOOK by John Horne Burns


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The promise- and more- shown by The Gallery (my pick as the most significant first novel of 1948) is not fulfilled in Lucifer With A Book, but despite its weaknesses, its disappointments for the reader, there is still much evidence that John Horne Burns wields a powerful pen- and has something worth saying, two vital factors in continued faith in his future...I think it is the compassion of The Gallery that I miss in this book. This is all anger and violence and hate and -- in some measure- bitterness. It makes unpalatable, and too frequently tasteless reading. But he has a lot to say on the subject which forms his thesis,- the parlous state of American private school education. What The Hickory Stick by Virgil Scott does for small town public school systems, this book does for the other side of the portrait. It is a cruel and biting expose of the venality, the sadism, the oringing, the bootlicking -- in staff and student body alike. Guy Hudson, disfigured veteran, and Betty Blanchard, ex-WAC, attempt to buck the tide, and come a-cropper in the process. But they find each other, and they do not lose their faith in themselves as ordained to teach. Not under Mr. Pilkey and his like, but, they hope, somewhere unsullied by the hypocrisies and intolerance and greediness and fear that motivate the whole body of Miss Sophia's Academy.... Burns has a sense of drama; he draws scene after scene that the reader wont forget. But his characters are mainly caricatures, more than life size in their grotesqueries. He overwrites. And he has a dim view of American youth, whom he paints as a lustful, filthy minded lot, with so few that seem normal, that- against the others- they emerge as ""queers"". Warning- a book that should be read before it is distributed!

Pub Date: March 30th, 1949
Publisher: Harper