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The Man Who Loved Children

3.61  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,866 Ratings  ·  303 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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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Paul Bryant
Aug 23, 2013 Paul Bryant rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned, novels

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
Flora
Mar 01, 2008 Flora rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Lars Guthrie
Oct 09, 2010 Lars Guthrie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Zanna
Dec 28, 2015 Zanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Zanna by: Angela Carter
After my first day of reading this I concluded that Sam Pollit is the most extravagantly awful character I've ever met. Better acquaintance did nothing to ameliorate my first impression, so how does Christina Stead make it bearable to spend over 500 pages with him? Because Sam's awfulness, his sexism, his white liberal oblivious scientific morality is the groan-inducing, painfully familiar sort, I think. It might be exaggerated (or not – presumably people really did talk enthusiastically about e ...more
Josh
Feb 09, 2008 Josh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
notgettingenough
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
C.
Jul 05, 2011 C. rated it really liked it  ·  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
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
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
Chris
Mar 22, 2015 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Squire
Feb 03, 2015 Squire rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Squire by: Sally Howes
I found this book difficult to get into because I began with the introduction. I found it almost unreadable and started it twice before I gave up and just dove into the book. (which was a good thing because the into contained major spoilers).

But as soon as I did, I was hooked.

I've never read a book that brought back memories of my own childhood in such a rush as this book did. From the sing-songy lingo of baby-talk and pet names Sam uses to control his children (bringing back the forgotten ling
...more
Rose
Aug 28, 2010 Rose rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lizzie
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
Rae
Mar 02, 2011 Rae rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Simona
Feb 28, 2016 Simona rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In "Anna Karenina", Tolstoj a incipit del romanzo diceva: "Tutte le famiglie felici si assomigliano fra loro, ogni famiglia infelice è infelice a modo suo" e conoscendo meglio la famiglia Pollit, si potrebbe dire che questa citazione è appropriata.
"Sabba familiare" è una saga familiare di cui Christina Stead tesse benissimo le fila, fila che riflettono più un esercizio di stile che una vera e propria trama. Ciò che colpisce è il modo in cui la scrittrice entra in questa famiglia descrivendo in m
...more
Helen
Sep 13, 2013 Helen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Meh.

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
Oct 04, 2010 Debra Hunter rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Jennyfleur
Apr 10, 2013 Jennyfleur rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
teresa
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
Ariel
This was unbearable. The story of the most miserable marriage ever. I hadn't read an older book in a while, and I had heard it was an amazing classic, so I gave it a try. But this was not the book for me. At first I thought it was going to be funny. Christina Stead is a wonderful wordsmith. The writing style is a little like A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, in which the writer delights in unusual words, building up word pictures like sand castles in torrents of phrases. But the misery just overcame me m ...more
Andrew
A novel I'd heard about ever since I was a kid, but never referenced outside of especially mildewy paperbacks, I read this (I'm guessing like most people on here) because of J. Franzen's essay on it. While each member of the family is quite well sketched out, it's the father figure-- as the title would imply-- who is the focus of the action, repugnant, sentimental fuck that he is, like a minor character from a really bleak Cassavetes film. It's not an easy read, and it took me quite a while to g ...more
Kate
Jul 07, 2010 Kate rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Melaslithos
Jun 05, 2015 Melaslithos rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-classics
I just finished this book, and I am quite at a loss for words.

The story is quite slow, too long-winding at time, but yet, I had a hard time putting it down. And it really finishes on a bang.

The Pollit family is extrême in its dysfunction, but we can all find a bit of our family story in them. Which makes them endearing to us, despite their flaws.

The only dark point for me was Sam's gibberish, which tended to pull me out of the story.

There's so much else to say that I don't even know where to sta
...more
Esthy
Sep 22, 2014 Esthy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The most accurate and horrifyingly mesmerizing portrait of narcissistic parenting I've ever read. I qualify this as a genius novel at the level of Gaddis or John Gardner. But more earthy, more disturbingly grounded than other post-modern tomes. It is the very realism of this that makes this book so difficult to take your eyes off of. The Pollits could be any dysfunctional family, except they are The Dysfunctional Family to end all dysfunctional families. The lack of redemption, the relentless de ...more
Don
Feb 22, 2015 Don rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australia
Highly recommended for couples who are engaged or considering engagement as part of their pre-wedding preparations.
Forrest
Jan 20, 2016 Forrest rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I once read a review of the movie "Sleepover" in Entertainment Weekly where the critic ended his critique by saying something like "the only way this movie would have any redeeming qualities is if it ended with a shot of the Earth exploding." Such a sentiment applies to this book as well. Do you want to feel better about your own dysfunctional family by reading about a sociopathic one? Are you interested in a story that has scenes where a teenage girl deliberately drowns a cat in a bathtub, wher ...more
Justin Evans
Oct 22, 2015 Justin Evans rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Why did I not know? How could it be? Stead, or at least this book, ranks with or above the other "all style, little to no story" masters/masterpieces of the century, right there with Joyce, Gass, and White. Her prose might actually be denser than theirs, her commitment to the sentence deeper.

MWLC is a flawed book in only one way: the first 100+ pages are molasses slow, and to little obvious purpose. The whole thing is repetitive, but the first fifth. Oh boy. The repetition in the rest is earned
...more
Austin
Mar 16, 2014 Austin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Danyellemastro


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Huntsville-Madiso...: Staff Pick - The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead 1 7 Nov 29, 2015 01:39PM  
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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?” 10 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.” 3 likes
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