INFANTS OF THE SPRING by Wallace Thurman

INFANTS OF THE SPRING

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KIRKUS REVIEW

First published in 1932, two years before its author died destitute in New York City, this delightful roman Ö clef about the Harlem Renaissance returns to print as an inaugural volume in Modern Library’s new series about that golden moment in American literary history. Thurman (b. 1902), better known for his novel about interracial prejudice, The Blacker the Berry (1929), was part of an intellectual group that included Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Alain Locke, and Countee Cullen, all of whom make cameo appearances (under aliases) in this spirited satire, which mostly takes aim at Locke’s much-celebrated notion of “the New Negro,” a concept Thurman mocks as too serious and uplifting. But he also turns his sharp wit against the character who most resembles himself, Raymond Taylor, a pretentious young writer who fancies himself a Nietzchean individualist, above mere racial concerns, and dedicated only to art. Thurman’s self-deprecating humor focuses on Taylor’s easy cynicism, as well as on his daily dissipation at “Niggerati Manor,” his name for the apartment building in Harlem where many of the story’s aspiring artists spend their time swilling gin. Owned by good-hearted Euphoria Blake, a businesswoman who once harbored artistic aspirations of her own, the apartment house is also home to Paul Arbian, a decadent, bisexual artist dedicated to the spirit of Oscar Wilde; Eustace, a singer who prefers classical music to the spirituals everyone wants him to sing; and Pelham Gaylord, a servile wannabe, whose own pathetic poetry serves as evidence in a rape case, and also underlines the pretense in the effusions of his role-models, Raymond and Paul. After a sober gathering of the literati, Euphoria decides to close the “miscegenated bawdy house,” another victim of well-intentioned ideas. Thurman’s clever portrait gallery reflects many of the competing notions of its time—between the masses and individuality, between art and uplift, between civilization and primitivism, between separatism and assimilation. But what truly animates this smart fiction is the timeless belief that ideas have consequences.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-75232-3
Page count: 304pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1998