Haunted by Yesterday

"In literature, it is the hereditary spirit that still prevails."
—George Santayana

Nothing is more dangerous for the critic than taking a book cover at face value. But when the blurbs compare the author to William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, and Saul Bellow, the challenge is irresistible. And since these are the claims with which Harper & Row confronts the reader of Robert Towers' novel, The Summoning, the publisher is setting its own standards for the critics. Remarkably, the novel does not disappoint unless it is held up to those high literary comparisons the publisher has implanted in the reader's mind.

Although the action is set in the South and Towers tries to evoke a heavily Southern atmosphere, the comparisons to Bellow and to a lesser extent Percy, with their depictions of existential angst and quests for "meaning," are more valid than the evocations of Faulkner and O'Connor. More important, the novel raises questions which have disturbed sensitive critics over the past decade or so; Why does even the best-written, most ambitious, and well-crafted of contemporary literature seem "minor"? Why has no literary voice emerged to capture indelibly whatever soul is left in contemporary Western culture? And what are the implications of this failure— whether of the imagination or of the...

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