Paula Fox | Critical Review by Carolyn Riley

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Paula Fox.
This section contains 617 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Carolyn Riley

Critical Review by Carolyn Riley

SOURCE: Review of The Western Coast, in Best Sellers, Vol. 32, No. 13, October 1, 1972, pp. 296-97.

In the following review, Riley compares Fox to contemporary writers such as Joan Didion and Grace Paley but asserts that Fox is ultimately worthy of praise for her own literary achievements, notably because of her work in novels like The Western Coast.

Reading The Western Coast, one is reminded of the sociopsychological sensibility of Joan Didion or Grace Paley and one sees in the prose the fine sure hand of Doris Lessing. But Paula Fox has that pure talent for fiction which, though it suggests other excellent writers at every turning, emerges complete in itself, endowing her fiction with its own discrete energy.

The Western Coast is a bildungsroman of the best sort. The novel is a chronicle of Annie Gianfala's effort (sometimes passive, sometimes wrenchingly conscious) to grow—not up, but down, "to the small patch of earth [she'd] marked out as [her] own." It is the "marking out" that is the story here, the effort to define one's place of being and the resources behind one's responses to a frightening and complex environment. In the beginning, Annie sees herself "among people who saw the world she hastened through so nervously, so uncomprehendingly, having meanings, categories, explanations that made it possible for them to know where their next thought was coming from," while "in her closet of terrors, Annie picked up words in the dark, hoping they would not turn out to be serpents." As Annie's friend shrewdly warned: "What one is afraid of becomes one's only real life."

Annie still thought that "there's a world of grown-ups somewhere—a place, a way of being, a message, that will reveal the nature of things." And "somewhere in the back of her mind hung pale abstractions, motionless as painted clouds, God, orderliness of meals, gravity of mien, classroom papers, one's name neatly written on the upper-right-hand corner, families grouped around the dining table, the elders teaching the young, undying love, music of the spirit, not of the kisses and deaths of movies stars." Hence it is Annie's job, just as it is everyone's, to reconcile the abstractions and real world, the grown-ups and herself, her idea of marriage and her own peculiar relationship with her husband, the notion of orderly meals and the hunger pains in her gut, and on and on. Annie's struggle is, of course, everyone's struggle—that of finding a personal equilibrium in a world of disparity between real and ideal. Paula Fox's genius, then, is her ability to present for our recognition a quality of life which hovers, unarticulated, on the edges of our minds.

Annie herself, however, has perhaps more to be afraid of than most—sickness, suicide, homelessness, poverty, Communism, war. And it is the very plethora of fearsome surroundings that demonstrates Miss Fox's only weakness as a novelist. Anxious to provide Annie with sufficient numbers of mirrors and indices with which to identify and measure her own emergent sensibility, she has over-appointed Annie's living room and thereby burdened her novelistic method with overtransparency.

But in the end, Miss Fox has achieved for Annie a perfect sense of conclusion, real in that no "answers" have been found, no "ending" defined. Annie has moved into a kind of maturity in which she looks clear-eyed at "ordinary life" with "its ordinary powerful truths," not with any particular "knowledge," but rather with a "way of knowing," a stance, a resolution—in sum, an identity. Paula Fox (unbeknownst to the author of the dreary and untantalizing jacket copy) is a wonderfully able novelist—certainly one to watch for future work but, more important, a writer who has already made a significant contribution to contemporary fiction.

(read more)

This section contains 617 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Carolyn Riley
Follow Us on Facebook