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Reviews 369 But if the people in these stories are cautious and slow to act, the language is neither. It moves full-tilt, often lyrically, the adjectives few, the verbs active and direct, the writer careful and aware of what the language may yield. The style isflowing and pulls one along as surely as the Missouri, yet it isfrequently abrupt. It has sudden jolts and stops. If sentences were horses, a salescatalog might describe these as “by Hemingway, out of Faulkner.” But the language is clearly Kittredge’sown, and it has a powerful effect. Though they contain violence, these are not stories about violence. They are stories about the impact of the environment and events upon the human spirit, the way we act toward the world and one another, how we live and the ways we die. This is classical material, developed in stories scored by com­ passion and wonder. Under it all lies the author’s love for his characters and his wonder at their power to endure. The pain that besets his people reminds us of those exceptional folks we all know whose lives seemed doomed from the beginning, who suffer more than we think we could bear. These stories are Faulkner-like in this as well. In the endurance of these folks lies their tran­ scendence of circumstance; they not only endure, they prevail. They may die too soon and senselessly, will surely witness death or experience betrayal, yet in their experience they are often raised to a new humanness; in their suffering they find themselves. Like Thornton Wilder’sCaesar, on meaningless tragedy they will impose a meaning. GARY HOLTHAUS Anchorage, Alaska Births. By William Saroyan. (Berkeley: Creative Arts Book Company, 1983. 121 pages, $6.95.) The New Saroyan Reader: A Connoisseur’s Anthology of the Writings of William Saroyan. By William Saroyan. Edited by Brian Darwent. (Berkeley: Creative Arts Book Company, 1984. 308 pages, $11.50.) Births is William Saroyan’slast book. Like the volume which preceded it, Obituaries (.1979), it is essentially a series of monologues. For approximately a half-hour each day between June 23rd and July 22nd, 1979, Saroyan wrote down whatever came to mind. Ostensibly his subject was births; in fact, “births” was only the excuse for elaborate digressions. For a lesser writer, the result might have been confusion and chaos, but Saroyan was able to bring together wholly unrelated subjects and make them seem, at least for a moment, as if they quite naturally belonged together. Births discusses, among other things, evangelical Christianity, Edmund Wilson’s father, marriage, H. L. Mencken, and Saroyan’s inevitable topic, Armenians, and it seems as if, yes, they really do have something in common. The key to that achievement is the famous Saroyan voice; when we read Saroyan, what we hear is how he talks rather than what he talks about. What matters is the sound of the voice, not the subject. 370 Western American Literature Saroyan’s literary voice was not, strictly speaking, a style like Heming­ way’s (with whom he has been, quite incorrectly, compared). Saroyan was apparently never sufficiently self-conscious as a writer to develop a style; what distinguishes his work is the voice of a man who can talk well—who can seem humorous, sentimental, tragic, whimsical, serious, solemn, or whatever else the occasion requires. Saroyan may have been influenced by the tradition of western tall-tales (especially as developed by Mark Twain) and Armenian story-telling, but there is nothing quite like his achievement among the works of earlier Ameri­ can writers. The idea of a personal voice as opposed to a cultivated literary style profoundly influenced western writers like Philip Whalen and Richard Brautigan. But the Saroyan voice itself has proven to be virtually inimitable, and it has been far more influential as an example than as a model. In The New Saroyan Reader, Brian Darwent offers “a connoisseur’s anthology of the writings of William Saroyan.” Darwent avoids merely reprinting such well known Saroyan works as “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze” and “The Time of Your Life.” These are Saroyan’s formal literary achievements, but to read only them (and it is only...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 369-370
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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