Daniel Fuchs: Escape from Williamsburg:
The Fate of Talent in America
Only a handful of devotees still remember the three novels Daniel Fuchs wrote in the mid-30′s. Like so many other once-promising American writers, he lapsed into silence after a brief flare of creativity. Yet even in the few years that Fuchs devoted to serious writing he showed such a rich gift for fictional portraiture of Jewish life in the American city that, given sustained work and growth of mind, he might have written its still-uncreated comédie humaine. After reading Fuchs’ work one wonders: What was the source of his talent and the cause of his silence, and, perhaps more important, what was the relationship between his talent and his silence?
At the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn lies Williamsburg, a gray and dreary slum. During the years of Daniel Fuchs’ adolescence and young manhood, Williamsburg was the home of the poorest of New York’s Jews, a social group even less favored than those who lived in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It was the cramped and harried life of this slum that was to be the decisive, even traumatic, influence on Fuchs’ sensibility. I doubt whether one can find another American writer whose image of life was so tightly bound by his adolescent experience, and whose entire creative effort was so painful a struggle to come to terms with memories of adolescence. Even James T. Farrell, tied as his novels are to recollections of Chicago’s South Side, has managed to break some of the holds of adolescent trauma and seek broader dimensions of experience.
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