Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Book Review: Erskine Caldwell, The Bastard (1929)

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, William Faulkner warned of the writer who "labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands." In The Bastard, Erskine Caldwell writes of the glands. Viewed through the lens of noir history, Caldwell's debut novel seems a precursor to the episodic realism practiced by P. J. Wolfson and Don Tracy in their novels of the early 1930s, but Caldwell's characters are, if anything, even more unrepentantly savage. Perhaps Gene Morgan, The Bastard's title character, is meant to have our sympathy, yet he thinks nothing of raping a young runaway who is being held in the local jail. In this world of the glands, such events are treated as so unremarkable that when we finally get a glimpse of Gene's heart, we cannot help but wonder if it is a gland in disguise. Noir doom is often driven by the glands. Grade: B+


  1. Caldwell was certainly the oldest writer wooed and trumpeted by MANHUNT magazine in its heyday.

  2. Much love for Caldwell