I’ve received more than the usual number of emails from other fans of neglected books in the last few weeks, which is a bit embarrassing as I’ve had almost no time to devote to the site recently. Among these were some recommendations worth passing along.
John Crowley, whose 1981 novel, Little, Big, has itself been called a “neglected masterpiece,” wrote to mention that New York Review Classics just published David Stacton’s The Judges of the Secret Court. Judges is considered by some to be the best of Stacton’s trim, elegantly-written historical novels. It recounts the story of John Wilkes Booth and his fellow conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Crowley’s introduction is unfortunately not available online, but you can find a short post and a lengthy series of comments about the book on Crowley’s LiveJournal site. When Stacton’s novel was first published, Robert Kirsch, reviewing it for the Los Angeles Times, called it “a superior historical fiction, accurate in detail, moving and compelling narrative and character. But it is something more than this as well, an exploration by a brilliant and thoughtful writer of the labyrinthine ways of good and evil.” I wrote about Stacton’s 1962 novel about Wendell Wilkie, Tom Fool, about four years ago, but put it in the “Justly Neglected?” category, comparing it to, “a cocktail party hosted by a brilliant but overbearing host — who drives his guests to the bar for another martini to tune out their host’s insufferable banter.”
From Sweden, Bengt Broström wrote to recommend E. Arnot Robertson’s first novel, Cullum: “It caused a sensation with its sexual frankness.” was reissued as part of the Virago Modern Classics series back in 1990 but is out of print once again. At the time Cullum was first published, it received mixed reviews. The Saturday Review (UK, not US) said, “… it not only fails, it almost goes to pieces by the end.” Another reviewer found it showed “quiet dignity and well-restrained emotion,” while the Nation and Athenaeum found, “The whole love episode between Esther and Cullum is psychologically convincing.” Eighty-some years later, readers seem to find much to relate to in the story of the literature-mad Esther, who falls completely when she meets Cullum, her first real live writer.
Finally, Herschel Roth, catching up with my article on Mignon McLaughlin’s wonderful collection of original aphorisms, The Complete Neurotic’s Notebook, wrote to bring my attention to the work of her husband, Robert E. McLaughlin: “A minor Cheever, perhaps, but I’m surprised no one has brought back his novel, The Notion of Sin, to capitalize on the Mad Men craze.” Indeed, the Crest paperback edition of the novel makes the connection plain as day: “Madison Avenue, Sex & Success!” The book, which tells about a young Mad man torn between a sexy, sophisticated–and married–woman and his farm-fresh hometown girl–who turns out more comfortable with amorality than he–did get pretty positive reviews back in 1959. Time magazine gave it a feature notice, writing in a passage that can’t help but bring some of Mad Men’s characters to mind:
“His characters are the kind whose gay yet joyless lives make for gossip over countless canapes, but they have rarely been described with such quiet precision or understanding. Some of them are merely foolish, some merely mistake manners for morals, and some merely hurt themselves by being themselves. But the most interesting of them come close to having no self to hurt; they are hollow at heart, capable of sensation but not of feeling.”