CRITICAL ENCOUNTERS: Literary Views and Reviews, 1953-1977 by Nona Balakian

CRITICAL ENCOUNTERS: Literary Views and Reviews, 1953-1977

Email this review


In her 30 years with the New York Times Book Review, Nona Balikian has kept a close watch on literary trends--the permutations of fiction in particular--and, from time to time, taken their measure. The pieces collected here range in date from 1953 to 1977 and originated (in various journals) as essays, interviews, or book reviews proper; but almost all, even now, are interesting chiefly as a record of Changing perceptions: what Balikian, as a literary journalist, felt called upon to say at any given time. In 1954 she decries the critical resistance to ""difficult"" modern fiction; the 1962 return of Lady Chatterley (""a genuine woman"") prompts an attack on the fashion for sexless (Capote), oversexed (T. Williams), or dessicating (Lolita) anti-haroines; 1959 brings an introduction to Britain's ""socalled Angry Young Men""; Nathalie Sarraute--and others of the French New Wave--set out ""to discredit the psychological novel of the Proustian school"" in 1958. No attempt is made to relate these developments, and none of Balikian's observations about them, however well-founded (as the sister of historian-of-surrealism Anna Balakian, she deals nimbly with Sarraute and icy-surfaced Ivy Compton-Burnett), are noteworthy at this date. In the welcome-reminder category are a tribute to Saint-ExupÉry--as the exemplification, aptly, of Forster's ""aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate, and the plucky""--and a lingering look at ""The World of William Saroyan."" The critical writings of Trilling, Pritchett, and Joyce Carol Oates draw admiring glances and Malcolm Bradbury's Social Context of Modern English Literature occasions fruitful comparison with the American scene. This last is Balakian's bailiwick, and she concludes with reports on the sad state of reviewing outside New York, the happy proliferation of alternate publishing, and the literary fight for survival. Book-wise readers would probably trade the lot, however, for an expansion of her Me-and-the-TBR introduction.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1978
Publisher: Bobbs-Merrill