Dawn Powell: Novels 1930-1942 (Library of America)by Dawn Powell
American literature has known few writers capable of the comic elan and full-bodied portraiture that abound in the novels of Dawn Powell. Yet for decades after her death, Powell's work was out of print, cherished only by a small band of admirers. Only recently has there been a rediscovery of the writer Gore Vidal calls "our best comic novelist," and whom Edmund Wilson considered to be "on a level with Anthony Powell, Evelyn Waugh, and Muriel Spark." In a two-volume set, The Library of America presents the best of Powell's brilliant, often hilarious, sometimes deeply moving fiction.
Dawn Powell -- a vital part of literary Greenwich Village from the 1920s through the 1960s -- was the observant chronicler of two very different worlds: the small-town Ohio where she grew up and the sophisticated Manhattan where she lived for nearly fifty years. If her Ohio novels are more melancholy and compassionate, her Manhattan novels, exuberant and incisive, sparkle with a cast of writers, show people, businessmen, and hangers-on -- all caught with Powell's uniquely sharp yet compassionate eye. A playful satirist, an unsentimental observer of failed hopes and misguided longings, Dawn Powell is a literary rediscovery of rare importance.
Dance Night (1930), Powell's own favorite among her works, is a surprisingly frank treatment of obsessive longing set in an Ohio factory town during the 1920s. Come Back to Sorrento (1932), a compelling study of frustrated aspirations, tells the story of a woman whose friendship with a music teacher awakens her to a sense of her life's wasted potential. With Turn, Magic Wheel (1936), a whirlwind tour of New York's literary world, Powell reinvented herself as a satirical writer. Her treatment of the "city of perpetual distraction" captures the allure of Manhattan with a lightness and wit to be found in all her New York novels. Angels on Toast (1940), whose farcical pace recalls screwball comedy, is a shrewd treatment of the adulterous misadventures of two salesmen. In A Time To Be Born (1942), set during the dizzying months before America's entry into World War II, Powell portrays the monstrously egotistical Amanda Keeler Evans -- one of her most wickedly barbed creations.
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