Thursday, 16 August 2012


James Gould Cozzens. Until last year I'd never heard of him.  But in his time people seriously pondered whether he was the greatest living American novelist; Pullitzers by the score, seriously considered for the Nobel (until he made it plain he would reject it if offered).  Why has he dropped so comprehensively off the radar?  I'm wondering whether (and I'm conscious, as I say this, that my own left-wing political views will bias my sense of things) whether he was just on the wrong side of the political divide -- the triumphs of the 20th century were progressive (feminism, fighting racism, the liberalisation of sexual life). Cozzens was not only right-wing, he was right-wing in a way that absolutely informs his condition-of-America novels.  Maybe he just seems today to have missed the larger point of the age through which he lived. There are other right-wing writers, of course; but I wonder if there's a sense in which those sorts of figures either happened to fall in with the grain of the age -- so, Kipling's Kim (amongst others) shows a deep fascination with and joy in multiculturalism, for example -- or else were right-wing in way that seems centre or even centre-left today (I'm thinking of Updike).

Then again, Castaway (1934) has a remarkably, avant-la-lettre Ballardian vibe to it.  Mr Lecky is marooned in his high-rise apartment, for reasons never explained: he's a modern Robinson Crusoe, scavanging food and weapons from the tower block, killing a man that he meets on one of the lower floors and dumping the body in the basement 'feeling no more remorse than Cain'.  Things get grimmer and grimmer, until he is compelled to descend to the basement again, turning over the corpse to discover, in a Prisoner-esque touch (you're ahead of me here, aren't you) that it is himself.

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