Books: The Hermit of Lambertville

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 10)

Cozzens has lived by Joycean "silence, exile and cunning" without quitting U.S. shores. But since a writer's secrets cannot be kept from his books and hence his readers, the popular mind has perhaps intuitively felt the "outsider" in its midst. For Cozzens is really alien grain in the American corn. Americans (particularly American writers) are apt to be romantics to the point of being moistly sentimental; Cozzens is classical, dry, cerebral. Americans have a youth complex; Cozzens has an age complex. Americans are optimistic; Cozzens is pessimistic (he would say realistic). Americans like change; Cozzens accepts but deplores it. Americans are temperamentally democratic; Cozzens is temperamentally aristocratic. Americans like to touch and handle life; Cozzens, a man who wears gloves winter and summer, prefers to contemplate it.

Can the twain ever meet? With his latest book, Americans and Novelist Cozzens stand their best chance of getting acquainted. An initial printing of 50,000 copies is off the presses. Reader's Digest has paid $100,000 for the right to run a condensation in Reader's Digest Condensed Books. The novel's movie rights have been sold for $100,000. This time, apparently, Cozzens in going to reach beyond that loyal band of fans whom Critic John Mason Brown has dubbed "the many few, more than a coterie, less than a crowd."

The Education of Arthur Winner. By Love Possessed (570 pp.; Harcourt. Brace; $5) is reared on a theme from the 17th century metaphysical poet Fulke Greville: "Passion and reason, selfe-division cause." This theme is developed almost musically, but it is the austere music of a Bach fugue, architectonic, contrapuntal, slow, majestic, sometimes irritatingly tedious, always impressive if not steadily arresting. It is played in a minor key, for this is a bitter comedy sounding life's black notes. The prevailing mood is irony, starting with the title itself. In Cozzens' meaning, "possessed" stands for "seized" or ''made mad." The more one loves, he is saying, the less one understands. Though characters crowd the novel's pages, only one man is schooled fully by this theme, and if the book had a subtitle it would be "The Education of Arthur Winner."

Seen superficially, Arthur Winner needs no more education. He is a successful lawyer in his 50s, a figure of Roman rectitude, a bald, grave patrician, sage and self-contained. In his middle-sized home town of Brocton (possibly located in Pennsylvania), he belongs to a comfortable upper class that has the attitudes if not the acreage of landed gentry. Within a 49-hour period, fissures of revelation about Winner's closest friends—and about himself—rip open this safe and stolid world, and almost swallow him up.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10