Rose's Reviews > The Man Who Loved Children

The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead
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's review
Aug 28, 2010

really liked it
Read in August, 2010

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 remarkable book, and it deserves readers, but those readers will not be in for an easy time. The mid-20th century's Moby Dick takes you on a voyage deep within an idiosyncratic yet absolutely convincing American family. Stead's Ahab is a man named Sam Pollit, a progressive of the Roosevelt era, a moralist, a scientist -- and believer in eugenics -- a man resolutely in love with himself, and above all, a baby-talker. His talk is not easy to take, nor is his towering self love or his zealous belief in his own righteousness. He's one of the most repugnant characters in all of literature and one of the greatest villains. The great white whale of this novel is Sam's wife Henny, a skinny, dark, implacable force of nature (her own), a mother who is trapped, hopeless, who lives a life of violence and despair. And its Ishmael is the young future genius, the ugly duckling who knows she'll one day be a swan, Louisa, Sam's daughter and Henny's step-daughter. And of course, there's a gang of kids. I sometimes felt impatient while reading this book. But the prose is magnificent, and I was swept along, and by the time I put the novel down, I felt the way I felt after reading The Brothers Karamozov, like I'd not only read something, but lived it.
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