Book Review: Nathaniel Hawthorne – Young Goodman Brown and Other Stories


Posted July 8, 2014 in Print

Young Goodman Brown and Other Stories 

Nathaniel Hawthorne, ed. Sara Maitland

[Comma Press]

Nathaniel Hawthorne is perhaps America’s most anthologised short story writer, yet compendia often fail to do justice to his sometimes evasive style. Contemporary efforts have sought to frame Hawthorne’s stories beyond the rubric of the American Renaissance through thematic collections focusing on his darker, more mysterious work. Lately into this asymptotic struggle is acclaimed novelist and short-story writer Sara Maitland. In Young Goodman Brown And Other Stories, Maitland places ten Hawthorne stories in the renewed international context of Magical Realism. For the most part, this is a common line-up of Hawthorne’s most appreciated work, conveying the sense of foreboding and depth of feeling associated with his finest stories. A relative curveball is The Hollow of Three Hills, a rarely collected and uniquely unsettling piece dealing with witchcraft and occult grotesquerie. Unfortunately, Maitland’s commentary on the collection skips this story, instead focusing on the fantastic allegory of ‘Young Goodman Brown’ itself.

The nuanced hermeneutics of Maitland’s intertextual, Magical Realist approach illuminate surreal elements of Hawthorne that are often overlooked. However, her overemphasis on Magical Realism sometimes gives her Afterword the feeling of a reading guide, identifying Hawthorne with a generalised idea of Magical Realism’s leftist moral compass. Ultimately, though, the collection brings together an interesting mix of Hawthorne’s darker stuff. Had more focus been attributed here, this book might have succeeded in its ambitious attempt to reinvigorate the great American’s canonicity in a separate era.

Words: James Hussey

For more literary kicks, check out this month’s other book reviews: 

Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird

Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism

Steve Rasnic Tem’s Here With the Shadows

Laurie Moore’s Bark

Jason Johnson’s Sinker

 

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