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FICTION : STILLNESS AND SHADOWS by John Gardner, edited and with an introduction by Nicholas Delbanco (Knopf: $18.95; 421 pp.).

September 28, 1986|Shelly Lowenkopf

"Stillness" and "Shadows" are two long fiction pieces John Gardner worked on sporadically before his death in September, 1982. They appear here in book form for the first time, exhumed, edited, and introduced by Gardner's long-time friend and literary executor, Nicholas Delbanco.

"Stillness," the more complete of the two works, explores Gardner's first marriage as part of the psychotherapy process he underwent. He subsequently cannibalized portions of it for shorter works. "Shadows" is about Gerald Craine, a middle-age private detective, probing the intricacies of identity and guilt among the denizens of a small southern Illinois town. Delbanco has appended seven of Gardner's fragments to this work, suggesting how Gardner might have ended it and, in the bargain, illuminates the author's writing and revision processes.

Although Delbanco has been conscientious, there is little of benefit here not available in material published earlier. Gardner's fiction style, with the exception of "Grendel," is rarely the elegant, profluent instrument he so vividly advocated in "The Art of Fiction" or achieved in such notable works as "The Life and Times of Chaucer." "Stillness" and "Shadows" meander, swirl and veer, which is characteristically what happened to Gardner when he became too self-absorbed. The elegant, enduring Gardner came when he reached out of and beyond himself.

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