Preliminary Impressions of One of the Children is Crying by Coleman Dowell

Yesterday I lucked out and found a copy of the debut novel by a writer I'd heard mentioned a time or two over the years, but otherwise had known nothing about: Coleman Dowell.  His first novel One of the Children is Crying was published in 1968 when he was already forty-two years old.  He'd been a songwriter and had some previous, notable success, here and there, on Broadway and in television.

Last night I read the first chapter of One of the Children is Crying and was impressed. Impressed enough, in fact, that I've made perhaps the dubious decision to blog about the book after having read only that -- its first chapter.  But I've read enough to know beyond any doubt, because it's so blatantly obvious to me, that Coleman Dowell wrote sensitively and brilliantly on potentially touchy subjects for his time such as homosexual relationships, alcoholism, child abuse and incest. I totally get the blurb comparisons to Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor and Carson McCullers, but do know that in Dowell's case, the comparisons are likely true and not just his publisher's wishful hype and hyperbole. Too bad the honest-to-God-true blurbs never resulted in many sales for Coleman Dowell's books.  But blame the blurbers and his publisher's marketeers for not being effusive enough in their praise, not Coleman Dowell. Blame, too, perhaps the "southern" or "southern gothic" labels that have seemed to shadow his largely unknown legacy in the limited criticism about him which has likely accomplished little more than limiting the scope of his potential and present readership rather than accurately defining the kind of writer he ever was in the first place. Because in my (now granted) limited reading of him, my first impression is that this super-talented craftsman / word-smith, Coleman Dowell, transcended his southern roots and the "southern gothic" even as One of the Children is Crying is wrought deep there and shoots out from its swampy soil.

The author Sumner Locke Elliott said of Dowell: "He is an artist.  He has an ability to project even horror with both beauty and tenderness."

One of the Children is Crying opens with a brother (Robin) receiving a call on Christmas from his sister (Erin) whom he's not spoken to in three years.  Abruptly, she relays him the bad news (though in this family I suspect it may in fact be good, no, great news), "Daddy is dead. Will you come home?"

Come home?  Robin'll need to board a train.  But, first, he'll need to get dressed.  First, he'll need to brood...

"Buttons and shoelaces took longest.  He found it endlessly interesting that the flooded brain of a drunk could philosophize, compose poetry and music, remember with terrible clarity, while its servants --fingers, feet-- had to be cajoled, with, at best, childish results.  He visualized alcohol as the Great Regressor; finally, if he is lucky, the alcoholic regresses to a place of fluids and silences; until then, there are buttons and shoelaces --but no neckties; he could not take on a necktie..."

One of the Children is Crying is going to be good. I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, check out Coleman Dowell's page at New Directions.