SCORNING all rules of writing and adopting as his one maxim, "forget anybody who ever wrote anything" a new writer, 26-year old Armenian William Saroyan, published his first book of short stories this month. Despite Mr. Saroyan's too evident desire to avoid classification, however, he is easily catalogued as belonging to that school of writing dominated by Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and Edith Sitwell, so aptly labeled by Max Eastman as "the cult of unintelligibility."
In one important respect, however, he is distinguished from these modernists. In some of his more lucid moments he does succeed in following one rule we expect, and quite justly I believe, all writers to adhere to--namely, to communicate to his readers an idea or set of connected ideas. Lacking for the most part any suggestion of a plot his stories, if they can be called such, do present a series of vivid and intensely vital experiences. "I am an Armenian," he says. "I have no idea what it is like to be an Armenian or what it is like to be an Englishman or Japanese or anything else. I have a faint idea what it is like to be alive. This is the only thing that interests me greatly. This and tennis." And he does succeed admirably in many instances in communicating his conception of life, though it is often a morbid and distorted one. It is this element that at one and the same time detracts from his writing and again gives it the vividness so characteristic of his work.
Mr. Saroyan's stories are concerned with the mental processes of degenerate, perverted, and artistic human beings. They have as their locale, bawdy houses, barber shops, dingy attic rooms, and cafes. The people he tells us about, so lucidly at times, are barbers, who talk of diplomacy, militarism, and conquest; bums who are too dignified to sell postcards; and youths first experiencing the sexual urge.
If you can forget for a moment, though it is a difficult thing to do, that the author is striving constantly for a style entirely modernistic and subjective you may enjoy these flights of his into the realm of the mental processes. In any case you must road him in small doses in order to properly appreciate his achievement.
His stories, as the wrapper announces find their grace and power and conviction as they reflect his own nimble curiosity and his insatiable demand for now affirmations of life." Whether, however, they present as "lucid and honest a vision as Whitman or Rousseau" is a matter for future generations to decide. "They do", however, "comprise realistic and experimental stories, travesties, and allegories, tormented searchings and sardonic commentaries."