The Promise | Critical Review by Dorothy Rabinowitz

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of The Promise.
This section contains 539 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Dorothy Rabinowitz

Critical Review by Dorothy Rabinowitz

SOURCE: "Sequels," in Commentary, Vol. 49, May, 1970, pp. 104, 106, 108.

In the following excerpt, Rabinowitz offers a mixed assessment of The Promise, faulting it for intrusive or overly academic psychologizing among the characters.

… [Chaim Potok's] The Promise is no disappointment as its fore-runner, The Chosen, is no masterpiece. The Chosen stayed at the top of the best-seller list for reasons which are easy enough to imagine. The story of Danny and Reuven and the Brooklyn Hasidic world begins, in The Chosen, with a now-famous baseball game in which Reuven's eye is fairly torn out of his head by Danny, batting fiercely for the Yeshiva team out to beat the apikorsim. Indeed, the first sixty pages of that novel gave fair promise of an interesting storyteller at work. Very soon thereafter in The Chosen, one sees that nothing of that promise will be sustained. After a first fine start, Mr. Potok declines into tract-like psychology with. I suppose, endearing spiritual qualities.

Mr. Potok's problem in The Promise, which is exactly worthy of its predecessor, is not with his subject matter. Indeed, the world he apostrophizes in both novels is a rich one. The Promise continues with Reuven—his father's son—struggling to stand somewhere between zealots and mere lovers of the Torah, and with Danny, Hasid turned psychologist, doing graduate work at Columbia. Mr. Potok's problem is not lack of a story. He is a yarn spinner, and he knows what a plot is. Mr. Potok's problem is his sensibility—a fatal deficiency, considering his craft. In Mr. Potok's case, the sensibility which is father to language is Jewish-American genteel, and academic to the bone. A standard Potok rendering flows effortless:

Danny went into a lengthy psychological analysis of Willy Loman's delusions and talked about how crucial it was to be able to distinguish between reality and fantasy.

Danny and Reuven talk. This is a novel of many conversations. Typically:

"Yes," he said, "I can understand violence if a person makes a rational decision that his world is utterly evil…."

"Not many people can make a decision like that rationally."

"They ought to read some good books."

"Marx read a lot of good books."

"Marx was full of rage. Books don't do much good when you're that full of rage."

"We're all full of rage. That's something I've begun to think about these days. Who isn't full of rage?"

"Yes. But most people manage one way or another to handle it."

"Why are people so full of rage? How would your friend Freud answer that?"

Such dialogue, sustained as it is with Mr. Potok throughout—for that is the language the sensibility naturally assumes—can only be anti-affect in its proprieties. Perhaps Mr. Potok is one of those novelists who will profit by translation into another language. Many are the moving scenes Mr. Potok is about to have, many he conceives. All are muffled in speeches. In addition, a special form of genteel educational psychologizing intrudes, along with a heavily explicit rendering of every thought of every character who has one. (Danny tugs at nonexistent side-locks all through, in an endless motif of allegiance.) It ought to be noted for fans of Mr. Potok and fans of parallelism in general, that there is a spirited volleyball game in the sequel.

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This section contains 539 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Dorothy Rabinowitz
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