Nadine Gordimer | Critical Review by Charles Poore

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Nadine Gordimer.
This section contains 770 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Charles Poore

SOURCE: "Her Field Is People: People Are the World," in The New York Times, Vol. CXIV, No. 39.186, May 8, 1965, p. 29.

In the following review, Poore praises the stories in Not for Publication.

The coolly controlled fury of Nadine Gordimer's storytelling stands out in this new collection [Not for Publication]. It is Miss Gordimer's best book.

Not many authors in her field accomplish what she sets out to do with so much force and grace. Her aim is nothing less than to advance the amenities of civilization. A tall order. But she goes about it with a kind of brilliantly deceptive casualness. You are caught up, first of all, in a story—the loves of men and women, the confrontations of growing up—the elemental business, in short, of life, liberty and the strenuous, faltering pursuit of happiness. Along the way, though. Miss Gordimer never fails to dramatize the dreams of glory, the petty subterfuges born of elemental insecurity, the odious side of power.

A number of these stories appeared first in The New Yorker, a magazine that, for all the recent tohubohu about it, can stand securely on the fact that it has never had a successful rival. Others were published in Harper's, The Saturday Evening Post, The Atlantic, Mademoiselle, The Kenyon Review, all stalwarts in the vital business of keeping the art of the short story alive. A bookkeeping doctrine in publishing is that short story collections don't sell lavishly. They should when they are written by the likes of Miss Gordimer.

There's no use trying to kraal her as a South African regional writer. True, she lives there. But her field is people and people are the world. Superficial proof lies in noticing that she sometimes sets her scene in England, on shipboard, or elsewhere. A deeper confirmation may be observed when you see her turning a Johannesburg suburb into an annex of Westchester or Grosse Pointe. She is quick to examine persons called troublemakers—and quicker to expose the mean disquiet of authoritarians who try by foul means to get rid of "troublemakers." The slave-driving instinct, she shows us, has an amazing variety of manifestations in our world.

One of her best stories is "The Worst Thing of All." In structural essentials, the tale may well rank high among the ten most shopworn themes in literature. It's about the reappearance of a man's troubling early love. The generic title should be: "The Old Flame Burns Again."

The old flame, here, is a wildly magnetic woman, Sarah, who was long ago the mistress of Denys, a reformed Johannesburg playboy happily married to Simone and a tobacco fortune. Once upon a time Denys helped Sarah put on daring plays in a disheveled little theater: once upon a time they fought with deeds, not hypocritically safe words, to lower the racist color bar.

Now, fresh from heady theatrical triumphs. Sarah is a talk-of-the-town visitor from Europe, where she went after ditching Denys. Will he be drawn back into her beguiling orbit? Simone, and the town, wonder.

The ending will surprise you. The mis-en-scène is acutely sketched. The local worldlings see how gauche they really are: "They were the ones who used the language of the avant-garde, learned from the appropriate reviews" … while Sarah spoke "in everyday words that, among them, would have been taken as signs of naïveté and ignorance…."

Time and again Miss Gordimer decides in these stories at the last moment, as it were, that T. S. Eliot was right in favoring music with a dying fall. The burst-of-fireworks-at-the-end school holds for her little appeal.

In "Not For Publication," the promising African boy who will one day help lead his territory to freedom from colonial rule disappears from the mission school that is determined to prepare him for Cambridge. The desperately lost stateless man in "Son-in-Law" achieves, through human attrition, a bleak security. "The Pet" presents a parallel between the fate of a servant and the fate of a household dog that is rather in the Katherine Mansfield tradition.

Have you ever noticed that when grown-ups offer children ice cream they seldom fail to take a good helping of it for themselves? Some such manifestation of the mutual benefit drive animates Miss Gordimer's observation of the ways of the old with the young.

In "A Company of Laughing Faces," a terribly devoted mother decides to take her 17-year-old daughter, Kathy, to an African affluent-society beach so that Kathy can have fun with people of her own age. Incidentally, of course, the mother loves life there. A shocking experience or two makes Kathy want to go home before the holiday is due to end. Her mother objects—briskly.

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This section contains 770 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Charles Poore
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