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Reviews 383 Stephen Crane: A Study of the Short Fiction. By Chester L. Wolford. (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989. 154 pages, $18.95.) In this series title, Chester L. Wolford examines Crane’s major theme: the conflict between order and chaos, in which humanity, driven by self-delusion, can only occasionally achieve a short-lived, fragmented vision of reality. Tracing the chronological development of this theme, Wolford’s clear, concise study is particularly valuable for the novice reader of Crane’s fiction. Wolford is most helpful when he examines dominant critical views of Crane’s stories, arguing, for instance, that Crane’s distrust of groups and his portrayal of indi­ viduals isolated from their environment are essentially the views of an existen­ tialist, despite his naturalist label. Unfortunately, readers primarily interested in Crane’s western stories may find the section on “Tales of the West and Mexico” the weakest of the volume. Wolford appropriately emphasizes the important relationship between “the vagaries of chance and the limited apprehension of reality” (43) in these tales, but he also allows his own somewhat questionable interpretation of “The Blue Hotel” as formal tragedy (fully developed in his The Anger of Stephen Crane: Fiction and the Epic Tradition) to dominate his discussion of Crane’s classic story, with no mention of the other numerous critical views that he supplies in his examination of other stories. Most frustrating, though, is the overall lack of space devoted to the western stories, even given the brevity necessitated by Twayne’s format. Wolford’s selection of representative critical appraisals (Part III) contains only slight references to a few of the stories; and while the section on the western stories—quite possibly Crane’s best work in the shortstory genre—numbers seventeen pages, Wolford allocates twenty-one pages to “Tales of War,” which outnumber the western stories but certainly do not equal them in quality. In a volume totalling 154 pages, index included, four pages can make a significant difference in the treatment given—and thus the value assigned—individual works. Although Wolford’s opinion that “Crane’s late fiction was beginning to reflect a new and more profound vision” (82) may justify shortshrifting wellknown stories in favor of ones receiving less critical attention, his approach may well confuse the student not yet familiar with the Crane canon. Otherwise, the book functions quite well as a solid introduction to Crane’s short fiction. WENDY CARSE Tulane University James M. Cain. By Paul Skenazy. (New York: The Continuum Publishing Company, 1989. 203 pages, $18.95.) To write a critical assessment of the entire body of James M. Cain’s fiction might be considered an act of masochism. One is tempted to ask why undertake such a project. Between 1934, when his first novel, The Postman 384 Western American Literature Always Rings Twice, appeared and immediately became a best-seller, and his death in 1977, Gain had written a couple of dozen novels and novelettes (and a good number of stories and essays) which, with a few exceptions, hardly deserve dredging up. The exceptions, however, make the venture worthwhile. In particular, they are the early novels. Postman, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce, all set in Southern California, all written between 1934 and 1941, all marked by what Skenazy calls that “peculiar conjunction of creative impulse, geography, and historical moment.” By 1941 he was “written out” ; the works that followed were set outside of California (from Nevada to Appa­ lachia) and were in the main rehashes of his earlier fables of unleashed self­ destructive passion and love triangles with “incestuous and oedipal overtones.” Skenazy skillfully maneuvers through the novels chronologically, employing an approach that is largely psychoanalytical, but also cultural and critical. What goes wrong with the works after the early forties is Cain’s failure to find a literary territory that would provide what Skenazy calls “the affirming associa­ tion of landscape and event one feels in the contemporary Southern California fictions.” There is also too much emphasis in the later works on social realism and the commonplace and too little of the density and shock value of his earlier work. The result—and anyone who has read much of Cain would have...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 383-384
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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