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15 Minute Pulitzer: 1962, most of this is supposition

by Craig B | May 16, 2016

Vincent Van Gogh's painting, Sorrowing Old Man ('At Eternity's Gate')Book Review:  The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor

This book, this The Edge of Sadness, made me want to visit Boston.  Now, it is not set in Boston, as you might suppose, (technically, the fictional city it’s in is more like Providence, Rhode Island, but another of O’Connor’s books, the one he’s more famous for and the one with a title that became a cliche, The Last Hurrah, is set in Boston) but O’Connor’s conjuration of the cityscape in The Edge of Sadness whet my appetite for some last-century East Coast architecture and gloomy corner pubs, some of the best of which are to be found in … you guessed it, Boston.

Also, this book did not disappoint in its content’s adherence to the title.  The main theme for this 1962 Pulitzer winner seems to be that of resignation … and not the sort that comes after a scandal or a moment of conscience … it’s the resignation to circumstances, to the arbitrariness of life and other people’s decisions.  Thus “the edge of sadness.”  What is most interesting to me about O’Connor’s book, however, is not the “resigned” characters who have found living a treacherous business yet attempt to go on in a moderately well-adjusted fashion, it is the counterpoint, the characters who have opted to cope by telling tales, often ridiculous ones.  Some of these counterpoint characters lie boldly, some of them lie subtly, but all of them lie.  Individuals around them don’t try much to reform them (though, there are often concrete consequences for their self-delusion), but seem to allow the “liars” the extravagance of not dealing with facts and in this way enduring life’s difficulties. 

I wonder if something like this in O’Connor’s experience is why he sometimes wrote fiction.  He spent the majority of his career writing as a TV critic (which in many ways seems to be sort of a “gloomy” job), and I wonder if sometimes he just needed to escape, to express things he felt deep within that he couldn’t quite rally “the facts” for?  And what better way to escape than by writing Pulitzer-Prize-Winning fiction?  Certainly superior to spinning frustrating yarns that manage to avoid the issue and make of one a general societal liability.  I suppose.

  craig Craig B is a thirty-something lover of books, movies, and rock and roll whose grandmother still worries that he might not be eating enough. (Love you, Grandma!) He lives with his charming wife in the small town of Berne, IN (in sight of the clock tower) where he busies himself keeping the Roses of Sharon in check and training his chinchilla in the ancient arts of the Ninja. Craig’s current favorite book is Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann.

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