by Sam Bluefarb (November 2011)
Although Lionel Trilling (1905-1975) is best known for his criticism, his unfinished, posthumous novel, The Journey Abandoned (2008), sparked a renewed interest in him as novelist without prejudicing his greater importance as a critic. This reawakening led to a reappraisal of what had been his first—and only--novel, the underestimated The Middle of the Journey (1947). For many years, I have ruminated over how that work might have been influenced by Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain (1924), and how it resembled the earlier novel in a number of ways. Mann’s of course is the incomparably greater work; yet both are quintessentially representative of their times. more>>>
Found Trilling's novel, about which I had been curious for many years extremely uniteresting. Perhpahs the cold war and the Communist threat made this book seem more interesting that it really is.
I have noticed that most people have a hard time wrting about this book without mentioning the "historeical" events of the 30's and 40's. Leave those out and the book makes very little sense. I would cmlpare it to Darkness at Noon except that that novel is still fas inating even though its main theses that Bolshevik party memebers comnfessed because their belliefs made them think that they were doing somethiing useful to birng about the worker's paradise. This has been shown to be utterly absurd. They confessed because they were beatn into submission.
Still Darkness is an engrossing tale because the characters seem vivid and their suffering genluine.
Trilling's pregentious novel can't claim to be able to stand on its own: outseide the historical context it reads ike a Sunday school sermon whic h is strnage since Trilling harldy attended Sunday School. (This of course is on eo fits main problems.)
The characters in this soporific talem never come alive. None of them is remotley interesting which is why everyone from the author to the booke seller need to talk endlessly about CHambers and Hiss.
The author could claim first hand Knowledge to few of the experiences he wrote about from Protestant Christian theology to fishing.
Perhaps if Trillling had been more honest with himself and had written about subjects he really knew he might actually have become a real writer.
His criticism is interestting but not his fiction.