Following Strangers: The Life and Literary Works of Robert M. Coates

Mathilde Roza. Univ. of South Carolina, $49.95 (344p) ISBN 978-1-57003-981-2
This examination of the life and work of Robert Coates, a literary figure largely ignored by critics, is long overdue. Roza, an assistant professor of English and American studies at Radbound University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, chose not to approach Coates's work "from within one particular theoretical framework," but rather in a cultural context. Roza covers 75 years in great detail, sharing excerpts of youthful letters Coates wrote to a high-school friend; descriptions of early publications; analysis of his main preoccupations ("a keen interest in the dark recesses of the human mind"); and expert chapter-length critiques of his novels (some of which are out of print). Details of Coates's time in France and his lifelong friendship with Gertrude Stein are of particular interest. Roza is an erudite and astute critic, often distilling a novel's essence in a single line; Yesterday's Burdens, for example, projects "a strong sense of misgiving about America's ruthless capitalism and consumerism and the dehumanizing and standardizing effects of its neurotic urban-industrial environment." Roza follows Coates's post-war career at The New Yorker, where he moved from contributing author to head art critic, a position he held for 30 years. Though this account may be more exhaustive than casual readers want, it sets a high standard for future Coates's scholars. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 05/02/2011
Release date: 04/01/2011
Genre: Nonfiction
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