Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



In association with Amazon.it - Italia

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Clark Gifford's Body

Kenneth Fearing

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Clark Gifford's Body

Title: Clark Gifford's Body
Author: Kenneth Fearing
Genre: Novel
Written: 1942
Length: 286 pages
Availability: Clark Gifford's Body - US
Clark Gifford's Body - UK
Clark Gifford's Body - Canada
  • With an Introduction by Robert Polito

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : creative variation on the political novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 10/9/1943 George W. Bishop
The NY Times Book Rev. . 28/6/1942 Isaac Anderson

  From the Reviews:
  • "This strange work of fiction is not so much a story as a collection of "shots," taken from a variety of angles (.....) Mr. Fearing's gift of vigorous and ruthless imagination is given free rein, and the books stands out by its complete originality." - George W. Bishop, Daily Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Clark Gifford's Body centers around an attempted uprising/coup by a self-styled well-established 'Committee for Action', led by Clark Gifford, against the Provisional Government that currently rules the nation. The organization takes over eight radio stations scattered across the country in the hopes of provoking an insurrection; they are not successful. The nation -- which has recently been at war -- and the time are not specified, but the general suggestion is of a (then) near-future (the novel was published in 1942) United States that has recently been rent asunder by a civil war.
       Clark Gifford's Body is not a chronological account of the events. Instead, Fearing shifts back and forth in time, putting together what is essentially a documentary collage: while the takeover of radio station WLEX in Bonnfield -- the raid led by Giffford -- is the central event, and one repeatedly turned to, the novel's thirty chapters range from thirty years before it took place to thirty years after (though the majority are set much closer to, or indeed during the takeover). And while Gifford is the central figure, the chapters cover a wide spectrum of those touched by the events, and there is a large cast of characters; the chapters include both first- and third-person accounts, as well as news reports, a letter, a proclamation, and an excerpt of a trial transcript. Several storylines are repeatedly returned to, from the personal -- a mother's desperate search for her son, lost across enemy lines -- to, of course, the political; the local Governor, Holling, at the time of the takeover, eventually becomes President, for example. Personal storylines and paths also frequently overlap and meet over the course of the novel -- including Governor Holling confronting Gifford after he has been captured. A local restaurant, Fenchon's, is one of the other locales that is a repeated crossing point of characters and story.
       As someone observes late on (and from fourteen years after the fact):

The attack at Bonnfield seemed, somehow, to establish a lasting connection between so many people otherwise not related to each other. It was a turning point in so many lives.
       Fearing builds his novel up around that turning point -- in all directions (temporal as well as spatial).
       That the Committee for Action action failed is clear from the beginning, as is Gifford's fate (executed by a firing squad). The details of the takeover of the radio station(s) -- and its failure -- are among the episodes that are elaborated on at greater length over the course of the novel, with scenes from on site as well as in town and in the Governor's offices. Beyond that, the general oppressive political atmosphere -- both before and after -- are also conveyed, if often less directly, in news reports that try to stick to the facts, obviously colored by what they are permitted to say under the regime. That many are sympathetic to Gifford's cause is clear also from his status, before, during, and long after -- the events are not forgotten -- while the political situation remains tense and unsatisfactory long after Gifford himself is out of the picture, with a part of the establishment, for example, denouncing then-still President-elect Hollings five years later and warning: "We are faced with anarchy".
       Gifford and his ambitions remain somewhat enigmatic, and the man himself a mystery. The different scenes of and around him -- including a letter the condemned man writes to his son from jail and encounters with various of the other figures -- show both how he is widely perceived ("Remember, he's a madman, a lunatic and a dangerous one, one man steels himself as he goes to meet him) and more nuanced reality. One person who visits him two years before the attack can't help but note that the various pictures, books, and figurines Gifford has in his study share a: "common denominator: violence. All of these idols of Gifford's had been either assassinated, or shot at, or crucified", and readers know from the beginning that he too will wind up a martyr -- his legacy open, in death, to even further (mis)interpretation.
       While most interesting as an experiment in form, Clark Gifford's Body does both evoke politcal power and abuse and the struggle against it, both organized (by the Committee for Action) and among a population waiting for an opportunity (that never really comes), with another (state) enemy nearby to serve as distraction and unifying cause. Without going into the specifics of the nation or its government, Fearing nevertheless conveys a sense of the might of government and the power of those that control it. The targets of the Committee for Action are radio stations, then as now the medium recognized as a a powerful way of conveying information and exerting control -- with the activists confident the authorities won't simply bomb the stations because: "The equipment is too valuable for that". Gifford and his group had even studied up on similar previous efforts, including: "certain historic political broadcasts, so-called panic broadcasts with the most amazing results"; no doubt, Orson Welles' 1938 airing of War of the Worlds is meant to come to mind.
       The episodes themselves, ranging from only a few pages in length to two that go on for around thirty pages, are generally quite gripping too. If some offer only glimpses, or bursts of information, even these serve as useful background pieces for the larger picture. Quite a few chapters are intentionally fragmentary -- the newspaper and magazine stories often only include the first bit, promising: "Continued on Page 2" and the like but with that part not included --, but that's fitting for the whole jigsaw-puzzle feel of the novel.
       While the story of the attempted coup doesn't offer traditional political thriller suspense, Fearing does present a dark, unresolved and unsettling picture that is effective in a different way, his story without easy answers or solutions, the failed larger struggle reflected also in many smaller, personal tragedies, the state throughout an overwhelming but still amorphous dark entity. If we are used to the revolutionary moment being quick and sudden, at least in our films and fiction, -- an almost immediate over-throw -- Fearing, by presenting scenes from a span of sixty years, depicts a much broader festering of political dissatisfaction, rather than any singular moment of transition, the central would-be revolutionary act fizzling out rather than triumphantly explosive -- a more accurate reflection of life in totalitarian regimes the world over, throughout history. (Notably, there is nominal transition, Holling elected President -- with, ironically, the support of the remaining Committee for Action -- but this only shifts power, it does not change it.)
       All in all it works quite well, making for a fine and quite successful variation on the political novel. The way Fearing plays with form is also appealing -- though it no longer looks or feels quite as daring as it might have in its time; arguably he could have been even considerably more daring.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 July 2020

- Return to top of the page -


Clark Gifford's Body: Reviews: Other books by Kenneth Fearing under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       American author Kenneth Fearing lived 1902 to 1961.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2020-2021 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links