The Marginal Man as Novelist: The Norwegian-American Writers, H. H. Boyesen and O. E. Rølvaag, as Critics of American Institutions by Neil T. Eckstein (review)
- Western American Literature
- The Western Literature Association
- Volume 27, Number 1, Spring 1992
- pp. 64-65
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64 Western American Literature Cather (by both inclusion and omission), her penchant for experimentation, and her working through opposites (for example, that Lucy Gayheart reverses The Song ofthe Lark). Skaggs’s readings of A Lost Lady, The Professor’s House, and My MortalEnemy are particularly impressive, but the whole constitutes an impor tant addition to Cather studies, not least of all because of its relation to the work of others. After the World Broke in Two will be read, carefully pondered, and responded to—as such, it is scholarship in the very best sense. ROBERT THACKER St. Lawrence University The MarginalMan asNovelist: The Norwegian-American Writers, H. H. Boyesen and 0. E. R0lvaag, as Critics of American Institutions. By Neil T. Eckstein. (New York: Garland, 1990. 203 pages, $50.00.) The Marginal Man as Novelist treats three Norwegian-American authors, Thorstein Veblen, H. H. Boyesen, and O. E. R0lvaag. An only slightly revised version of Neil T. Eckstein’s doctoral dissertation from the 1960s, the book is nonetheless an interesting and useful study of an important aspect of American literature. Most interesting are the chapters on Veblen and R0lvaag. Although Veblen is the only American-born author of the three, Eckstein finds him the most marginal: both Boyesen and R0lvaag, Eckstein writes, “found their identity within American society to a much greater extent than Veblen.” Boyesen is shown to be the least marginal, so much so that one wonders whether the label marginal fits him. The treatment ofVeblen, the only non-novelist of the three, is a touchstone for measuring the marginality and accomplishments of the other two authors. In many ways, however, it is the book’s most fascinating part. Treating this important social critic as a marginal man opens new insights into his work, especially into his observations on the leisure class. Eckstein’s book does not try to give readings of Boyesen’s and R0lvaag’s fiction. It examines them instead in terms of their social, economic, and political criticism, often using passages found in fiction as though they were statements found in nonfiction works. The book pictures Boyesen sympatheti cally as he tries to achieve complete assimilation and largely succeeds, but becomes bitterly disillusioned late in life. It also provides insight into the viewpoint that dominates much of R0lvaag’s fiction. Eckstein shows that R0lvaag’s “persistent identification with the immigrant community and its problems and concerns”is the source of some of his weaknesses and some of his greatest strengths. The book also examines Veblen’s growing concern with problems his fellow Norwegian-Americans encountered as they became Ameri canized. Reviews 65 Eckstein’s lack of sufficient revision shows especially in his notes and bibliography. Except in his brief Foreword and one note, he relies mostly on outdated secondary sources. Obviously, The Marginal Man as Novelist should have been more thoroughly revised. As it now stands, it is a good book. With more thorough revision and careful editing, it could have been much better. RICHARD TUERK East Texas State University Whistlepunks & Geoducks: Oral Histories from the Pacific Northwest. By Ron Strickland. (New York: Paragon House, 1990. 358 pages, $24.95.) Strickland has been the author of several previous books, this being his second devoted to the Pacific Northwest using the technique of oral interviews. His earlier book was entitled River Pigs and Cayuses. Whether this book is history' or literature will be left for the reader to decide. The author has used the time-tested technique of travelling throughout various parts of the region with a tape recorder at his side, taking down the reminiscences and recollections of a wide variety of Pacific Northwesterners from tough oldtimers to contemporary New Agers, including cowboys and wheat farmers, fishermen and loggers, Indians and city folk, saloonkeepers and prohibition agents, and naturally, whistlepunks and geoduck hunters. And what are whistlepunks and geoducks? Well, the former are logging crewmen who, with ajerkline, signal the steam donkey engineer to indicate how the machine’s cables should be deployed, and a “gooeyduck” is a large bivalve (Hiatellidae) averaging two or three pounds and sometimes going as high as sixteen pounds, the meat of which is much prized for chowders along the...