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 Fragmented, newly uncovered novel by Wolfe, found in his ledgers and written at the summit of his descriptive powers. Four-fifths of this cumulative but largely plotless re- creation of turn-of-the-century New York has never before seen print, though bits and pieces were excerpted in From Death to Morning, Of Time and the River, and The Web and the Rock. Wolfe wrote this huge ode in his early 30's, while swimming blindly through a cyclic novel he called The October Fair, whose first installment saw light as Of Time and the River, minus this ungainly section that has nothing to do with Eugene Gant or George Webber. He was aided by his mistress, stage designer Aline Bernstein, who wrote voluminous notes for him about her childhood, youth and early womanhood, from which the author fashioned the young Jewess Esther Jack, whose mind is the center of The Good Child's River. Bernstein later used some of the same material for her two books about herself and Wolfe, The Journey Down and An Actor's Daughter. The novel is a meditation, in Wolfe's boldest style, on time as a dark, rich river bearing the mind of Esther Jack and is a sheaf of fabulous set-pieces, exhilarating rhapsodies, family portraits of eccentrics. Yes, there are clinkers about the Jews, things Esther would never say or think, and some of his women are sticks, but all is forgiven in the sheer magic of Wolfe unbound, as in Esther/Wolfe riding through Central Park at first-light: ``...suddenly I heard each sound the birdsong made: like a flight of shot, the sharp fast scraps of sound arose. With chittering bicker, fast-fluttering skirrs of sound the palmy honied birdcries came. Smooth drops and nuggets of bright gold they were. Now sang the birdtree filled with lutings in bright air....'' Wolfe's framework--of figures aflood in rivering night--is clearly borrowed from Whitman's great night-poem ``The Sleepers'' but is no insult to the original. An often stunningly disciplined first draft--by a genius.

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 1991
ISBN: 0-8078-2002-4
Page count: 300pp
Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1991


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