From New International, Vol. II No. 4, pp. 142–143.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
A World to Win
by Jack Conroy
350 pp. New York. Covici-Friede. $2.50.
A sturdy novel, a challenge to workers and intellectuals to join the revolutionary movement, Jack Conroy’s second book is an important addition to the swiftly growing body of revolutionary literature.
Even though it lacks the powerful impact of The Disinherited, one of the most significant proletarian novels of contemporary American literature, A World to Win again reveals Conroy’s ability to portray pungently and with passion the misery of the working class in this decaying society. Conroy, thirty-six year old worker-farmer of Moberly, Mississippi, well-known novelist and winner of a Guggenheim fellowship, not only knows the workers’ world but is able to portray it.
For a worker to read this book is to relive his own brutal experiences. There is the strike, vividly, tersely described, the picture of Monty Cass, coal worker, driven insane by society after he kills a scab, the story of a hungry family doomed to support another unwanted child. These chapters – so bold and so graphic – alone would justify the book. Unfortunately, they force the plot into a secondary position and relegate the main characters to the background.
The story concerns itself with the lives of Robert (son of Martha, a frustrated intellectual, and Terry, a rough vagabond), and Leo, his half-brother (born to Terry and his first wife). Robert is moulded to fit his mother’s unrealized dreams and to pursue a writing career. Leo, made in Terry’s image, early chooses to live by his hands. The misunderstandings between the two, their futile journeys in search of security in this uncertain era, their bitter experiences, and the final resolution in the revolutionary movement, which brings them common understanding, form the plot.
It is a sketchy plot – yet less spotty and disjointed than The Disinherited, and this improvement in technique is an excellent gauge of Conroy as an artist, and of his future promise. It indicates his sincere effort to better himself so that he can be of greater use to the revolutionary movement, a feeling inherent in him because of his many years as a conscious fighter in the class struggle. For Conroy, both in his writings and in his life has but one driving force, one central idea which distinguishes him from many socalled proletarian writers, and which makes him worthy of special consideration. Conroy desires one thing only: to persuade and inspire all his readers to join consciously in the revolutionary movement.
A lusty sense of humor and a healthy, natural outlook on sex, characteristics too often lacking in our writers, are of great importance to the book. But above all, the continual probing into every detail of workers’ miseries, the constant demand for frank, unadulterated truth, the desire to know and write all, give promise of Conroy’s future as a revolutionary writer.
Conroy is a worker with the rare faculty of recapturing the essence of his experiences – as an exploited coal miner, as an almost broken down bum (his hobo camp scene lives in the reader’s mind long after he has finished the book). His life has been rich in the experiences of the class struggle and this is his material. For five years he wrote at night under the flickering light of a kerosene lamp, after he had worked for long, gruelling hours in a shoe factory and hoed a garden to provide potatoes for his family. He wrote thousands of words while his body cried for sleep, and hunger taunted him. These things must be remembered in judging the man and his book.
Last updated on 26 February 2016