By the Sound – Edward Dorn (1965)


“One of the things the novel can and often does do for its readers is to extend their range of sympathy, to make them see with a new clarity groups of people that might otherwise be forgotten except in statistical charts, and to make them feel that the individuals inside these groups partake of our common humanity. This is one of the main impulses of writers such as Dreiser, Steinbeck, or Solzhenitsyn, writers who not only want to record certain kinds of social oppression but also want to correct them. They take sides in their novels and openly moralize, preferring compassion and authorial commitment to aesthetic distance, and often they do bring about at least some social change. Such a writer is Edward Dorn in By the Sound. By the Sound was originally called Rites of Passage when it was published in 1965, and now it is re-issued with minor revisions and the new, less pretentious title. It is a novel surprisingly conventional in form for Edward Dorn who has since he wrote this book come to be known for his wildly imaginative and original, comic and philosophical, open-ended poem Gunslinger. By the Sound is a regional novel whose subject is a geographical area and the life style of the people who live there, and it is told in episodic chapters with such names as ‘The Unemployment Office,’ ‘New Year’s Eve,’ and ‘The Deer’ which are meant to reveal the rhythms of this way of life and its pleasures and despairs. One could look to The Country of the Pointed Firs and Winesburg, Ohio for its literary models. The title refers to Puget Sound in Washington state, and the main characters of the novel, the people who are given sympathy, are the marginal workers who live in that generally grey, misty and smudged land. Carl Wyman and his wife Mary come to the Sound to escape life in the city, live there a year and a half which seems three in their minds, and then leave as the novel closes with their hopes abandoned. … Edward Dorn tells these stories in a prose style that is sometimes awkward. He will use an occasional flat sentence (‘She was interested in charities and indeed took in interest in people who were of the circumstances at hand.’) and sometimes an affected word (‘desiderata,’ ‘coprolalia’) that is inappropriate for the story he is telling, but the compassion and power of the book make this seem incidental. He has a good sense for the feel of a geographical place and for the nuances of emotion. What he is telling us and the people in power in our country is ‘For God’s sake, have a heart. Treat other people as human beings.’ It is the bell of the great moralists that must be continually sounded to keep us awake and alive.”
Ploughshares
Jacket2 – “You Are Sometimes in the Trance of What Is Beyond You”: Upheaval, Incantation and Ed Dorn in the Summer of 1968
Jacket2 – On Ed Dorn, ‘The Newly Fallen’
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