The Man Who Loved Children
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The Man Who Loved Children

3.63 of 5 stars 3.63  ·  rating details  ·  2,199 ratings  ·  237 reviews
With an Introduction by Randall Jarrell. Sam and Henny Pollit have too many children, too little money, and too much loathing for each other. As Sam uses the children's adoration to feed his own voracious ego, Henny watches in bleak despair, knowing the bitter reality that lies just below his mad visions. A chilling novel of family life, the relations between parents and c...more
Paperback, 527 pages
Published September 15th 1980 by Holt Paperbacks (first published 1940)
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I finally got to the SLAP moment. What is the SLAP moment? It is when you are reading a longish book and thinking you hate the fucking thing but it’s not quiiiiiiiiiite bad enough to say THAT’S ENOUGH and there are these great billowing clouds of praise and for this thing urging you onwards and you’re looking, looking for the scene, the page, the paragraph which will make you stop dead and say THUS FAR AND NO FARTHER…. It finally happened to me in my reading of The Slap, so now I call it a SLAP...more
It's a travesty that this novel isn't one of those twentieth-century classics that everyone's heard of and has either read or knows they must read, like "The Sound and the Fury" or "Ulysses." Sure, people, praise it, but in the same way that Jonathan Franzen praises Alice Munro: with patronizing awe, not peerage. I don't know that Christina Stead ever wrote anything nearly as good, but "The Man Who Loved Children" is epic and brilliant -- strange, gorgeous, devastating, hilarious, flawed, origin...more
Jul 05, 2011 C. rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to C. by: Jessica Treat
I have to admit that my reading of this book did not do it justice: I've been busy, and tired, and I took a big long break in the middle because I had to finish another book, and it's very long. But: it is so very excellent.

I read somewhere that books about families are often shoved into a little, neglected category of their own - usually called 'domestic fiction' or something similar. I wonder if I'm not guilty of this myself, with my 'family-drama' shelf. I meant it originally for books like O...more
Lars Guthrie
Jonathan Franzen—everyone who reads knows who he is, don’t they? Second novel as wildly popular as the first, cover of TIME. Yet no one seems to admit that they like him.

Say what you like about his prickly personality, Franzen always seems willing to subsume his ego in the service of unrecognized writers whom he feels deserve the same attention he gets. I might never have read Paula Fox’s ‘Desperate Characters,’ had not Franzen touted it in a number of interviews when ‘The Corrections’ came out....more
The greatest novel I've ever read about a certain type of family life. Stead is simultaneously intimate and expansive: it's like we're reading an adaptation of some deep myth or television sitcom. Bonus: Sam's "little language," the familyspeak that swamps Hetty because her own is so much less vigorous. And that's what I love about the book. It's like Christina Stead took all of American culture and spirit, wrapped it up into a single character (Sam Pollit), and then blew it off her finger. Sam...more
If Shakespeare had written this, we'd call it one of his 'difficult' plays. If Donna Tartt had written it we'd be dead from the shock. As exquisitely tailored as The Goldfinch is, this book is not. It's a meandering, repetitive quagmire.

Christina Stead, who was capable of great neatness in prose, took it upon herself in this book to write as people actually live and actually speak. The result makes one realise how important the writer is to the process of making ourselves bearable in print. Wri...more
Apr 29, 2013 Chris rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chris by: Paul Stern
This is a strange book. My knowledge of Australian based or influence literature is very lacking. The writer, Stead, was born down under but the book takes place in Washington. So really what is it? It reads like magic realism, but it’s not really. In some ways, Stead reminds me of Angela Carter with a slightly less dark and gothic. Then again, it reminds me of a more tragic version of Monty Python.
Then again, another turn, it reminds me life.
The novel tells the story of Louie who lives with h...more
Douglas Dalrymple
A family is a language to itself, but from dumb beginnings and single-syllables, any child of the house moves inevitably to perfect fluency. Reading Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children is something like being born into the Pollit household yourself: you are mesmerized and disoriented by a dialect, a cadence, a register that mysteriously cohere to become a world.

Stead’s verbal exuberance is astonishing, of a caliber (perhaps) with Melville or Shakespeare. Her characters – Sam and Henny...more
This is one of the great, largely unread books of (more or less) our time. Originally published in 1940, it was dismissed by both critics and public. Randall Jarrell gave it a bit of a revival in the 60s (and a perceptive introduction, reproduced in the new edition) and Jonathan Franzen recently gave the novel high praise in the New York Times Book Review, saying that its depiction of the psychological violence of family life "makes Revolutionary Road look like Everybody Loves Raymond." It is a...more
Theresa Leone Davidson
The man who loved children could have killed all of his children, his half-witted sister, his irritating wife and himself in the first chapter and saved me lot of boredom. I can sort of see why some might like the novel; I did not. I thought it was boring. REALLY boring. You would think a novel about spouses who hate each other, the wife always threatening suicide, various other small homespun dramas thrown in, would be interesting to read. It was not. It was boring. REALLY boring. Perhaps if it...more
I absolutely do not get the appeal of this book. How it shows up on some "great reads of the 20th Century" lists, I don't know. It was difficult to read and bizarre...neither in a good way.

The story surrounds a dysfunctional family, but the conflicts never peak, or even simmer with appeal. The creepy father (who drives you crazy with his baby talk), carries on in oblivion while the family collapses. Many reviews indicate that the last two chapters are worth the wait; I disagree.

I regret the time...more
You immediately become aware when reading this book how much Christina Stead might be thought to have been in need of a creative writing class or, indeed, a strong editor, as this crazy novel sprawls, messy, repetitive, overlong in many places - but how grateful we should be that she didn't have these alleged benefits as her genius rampages across the verbose pages. This goes for all her books really, but Children is her masterpiece and it comes as life does, straight at you with no time for org...more
I am still chugging along faithfully. i am now nearly half-way through. Sam Pollit and Henny Pollit are such unlikeable characters but the book illustrates Tolstoy's claim that Happy Family are all alike but unhappy families are unhappy in their own ways. Stead's book drags you through not only and unhappy family but one might say miserable. Sam is a self-obsessed man who sees himself as a great father and lover of all fellow human beings but is so stuck inside himself that he cannot see how he...more
Perhaps I was naive to be so shocked by this grotesque 1940s tale of chaos and family dysfunction set in D.C. Baltimore heiress Henrietta Collyer is married off to a zany, hardscrabble conservationist named Sam Pollit -- and what follows is an explosively unhappy (if high-yielding) marriage. I'll be damned if almost every page didn't made me cringe: the father's narcissism, the mother's hysteria, the sheer filth of their encroaching poverty, the childrens' constant suffering and neglect. It abou...more
This was another hard book to challenge myself, like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I got to page 69 and I just wanted something to happen. I get it, everybody's miserable and they all hate each other.

I gave up. Do I get to count it as "read"? I didn't mind that the characters weren't likeable, but I wanted something to happen, and I realized I was dreading opening it for my morning read on the exercise bike. So I started an easy book about trash pickers in New York (Mongo). Later I flipped thro...more

527 pages of two people hurling verbal, emotional, and physical abuse upon one another and their children. 527 pages of no growth or character development in any of them, no regrets, very little else happening. Not one likable character in the whole book. In fact, I would nominate Sam Pollit, the father, as perhaps the most despicable, evil, vile character in American fiction. Mostly because he really doesn't notice, ever, how misogynistic,racist, mean, cruel, and ignorant he is. And he spe...more
Debra Hunter
Oh, how I hated this book. I should have known when Jonathan Franzen recommended it so strongly in the NYT book review. There is not a single likeable character, and the book is tedious, unpleasant, and very hard to read. I was the only hardy soul in my book group who didn't put it down in disgust..I actually finished it. This is sad, since I probably could have read several actually good books while I wrestled with this one.
The Man Who Loved Children has long been one of my mother's favourite books, and a well-thumbed, dog-eared copy is one of my most vivid memories from childhood. And yet, somehow, I wasn't ever quite ready to read it until recently. Perhaps now I have finally stopped believing in bogeymen and monsters hiding in cupboards, and could read with some sense of detachment. There is something in Sam Pollit, a man who drags his wife and children through the most extreme of poverty, that hits close to hom...more
Influenced by Jonathan Franzen's recommendation and the fact that the great American poet Randall Jarrell wrote a long introduction to its re-release in the 60's, I approached The Man Who Loved Children with an open mind and heart, and was very quickly struggling to keep turning the pages. The author, Christina Stead, wrote it in the 30's and it revolves one very strange family which is dominated by the Patriarch, Sam, who is the weirdest dad you've ever met; making up his own language, narcissi...more
Josh Friedlander
The one prominent critical Goodreads review of this book is by someone who gave up on it around page 130, which makes sense, because at that point I was sorely tempted to give it up myself. Sheer bloody-mindedness compelled me to continue. I'm so glad that I did. This book grows on you slowly, and, in adjusting you to the sharply realised Pollit crew, demands your complete emotional investment.

The titular character is the immensely annoying patriarch, Sam, the prime factor in one's desire to put...more
Lately, I have been browsing Amazon and considering buying a copy of The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford. The first sentence grabs me. "This is the saddest story I have ever heard." I have not read Ford's story yet but as of today, the saddest story I have ever heard just might be The Man Who Loved Children. I feel torn as to how to rate it. As for the writing, I'd say it's a good strong five. As for how much I enjoyed it, it's a bottom of the barrel one. Reading it felt like a burden. The...more
Appealing to my inherent Baltimore and Maryland vanity gets any novel a long way, and when I read very early on a passage talking about that "wretched slum east of Baltimore, Dundalk," this one was on my good side. In fact I was tickled to see that sentence from a book that was published in 1940. I guess not much has changed. Assorted comments made by Baltimore-raised characters about the denizens of Washington, DC only further endeared me to this book - along with naming streets where I can thi...more
I'm still reeling from the fact that I finished this book, finally...ugh. I don't know what to make of it yet. I wish I remember where I first saw its title - I got it from PaperBackSwap back in April of 2008, although I know I'd had it on my to-read list for years. I saw it in SOMEone's "best books ever" list, and I figured it had to be worth my time. Um - NO. I can't believe I held out through the whole thing, although I DO have trouble not finishing a book I start. Even if I feel like it's a...more
This was a difficult book to read in that it took me forever. The entire family was SO annoying that I could hardly stand it.

The man who loves children really, in fact, doesn't love his children at all except for how they make him look to the outside and feel proud of his "accomplishments". He loves himself and sees his children as possessions that only he is qualified to educate and train, even though he is never around to do it. He was an absolute manic ass.

The mother, which I spent most of t...more
Feb 10, 2008 Liza rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who likes the bitter truth
I kept wishing that I could stop reading this book because it was so ugly, but I couldn't because it was too compelling. It almost physically hurt to read it because it is just bursting with too many sights, too many smells, too much STUFF all falling apart and disintegrating, things falling apart, children scrambling for any kind of understanding, and all this roly-poly, hurdy-gurdy dialog tripping along, ugh. And nothing has so much brought back for me the sensation of being a child in a famil...more
This is a delightfully rich novel, jammed with weird characters set against each other as much as possibly can be. You know it's all going to go wrong, you just aren't sure which way until the end. At that point, it's the only way it could have gone. I love the vigor and originality in some of the dialogue too, particularly Sam the father. He's a great one to follow in a book, but I'm sure I'd hate him in real life.
Ahhh, to be a child at the mercy of one's parents' psychoses! This was a difficult read, dense with description, vitriolic tirades, poetic musings, invented languages, and hyperbolic self-love. Stead recalls with amazing trueness the sometimes-stifling life of the family, especially for women mocked into drudgery (and endless pregnancies) and the children who know no other way of life. By the end I was urging LooLoo to take that desperate final step and sighed in relief when she finally exited t...more
IMHO, 527 pages was 527 pages too many to spend with the Pollit family. It was obvious that Louie would end up killing someone, but I was never quite sure who it would be. The obvious conclusion made getting there tedious for me.

I did feel sorry for Henny. She was married to an irresponsible man and had no way to get out of it. In that day divorce was not an option. She could not have a career as a woman. She had no family planning services available to her. It's no wonder she behaved the way sh...more
Why do people like this book so much? This is why I usually regret taking the time to read classics. This cover is incredibly creepy--seriously, judging by the cover, I thought the book would be a lot better than it actually was--and though the idea behind it was good, I couldn't see where the story was going. It was sort of depressing and bothersome. All the characters seemed like cartoons or caricatures which I didn't find particularly charming. was kind of a waste of time.
Despite all the wonderful reviews by authors you can't help but respect I thought the book was toooo long, repetitive in characterizing the father....maybe the author wanted you to find him as disgusting a parent as she did and did not really convince me that the daughter had developed the resilience she shows in the final chapters. On the other hand if you are interested in reading about a wildly dysfunctional family in the 30's it is worth the read.
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Christina Stead (1902–1983) was an Australian writer regarded as one of the twentieth century’s master novelists. Stead spent most of her writing life in Europe and the United States, and her varied residences acted as the settings for a number of her novels. She is best known for The Man Who Loved Children (1940), which was praised by author Jonathan Franzen as a “crazy, gorgeous family novel” an...more
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“Life is nothing but rags and tags and filthy rags at that. Why was I ever born?” 4 likes
“Pale as a candle flame in the dusk, tallow-pale, he stalked along, holding her hand, and Louie looked up and beyond him at the enfeebled stars. Thus, for many years, she had seen her father's head, a ghostly earth flame against the heavens, from her little height. Sam looked down on the moon of her face; the dayshine was enough still to light the eyeballs swimming up to him.” 2 likes
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