Page 121 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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SAMUEL I. BELLMAN
The Literary Creativity of Meyer Levin
T
h e
n a m e
M
eyer
L
ev in
cannot be dismissed lightly in any dis­
cussion of important American Jewish writers. I say this not
because of the enormous bulk of his fiction, quasi-autobiography,
and reportage (seventeen or more books, countless articles, a
number of films, etc.); not because he has done so much, seen
so much, related to—or failed to relate to—so many people in the
literary, dramatic, and journalistic fields; not because he has
been writing, often with wide circulation, since the 1920s; nor
because of any of the obvious publicity reasons that might be
advanced for someone in the Eastern Literary Establishment. In
a sense it has been good that Levin as a serious writer has never
been closer than the uncertain fringes to this particular estab­
lishment, with its cliques, symbiotic relationships, and battles.
Surely, one feels, had he gotten involved in
that
too, the artistic
and reputational risks would not have been worth it; his situa­
tion would have recalled the meeting of two isolated, far-from-
home Jews who don’t hit it off, form three separate congrega­
tions, and then try to raid the competition’s membership. His
name cannot be dismissed lightly because
he represents at least
five im portan t types of peop le ,
and when the publicized literary
fads and some of their principals have sunk into a well-deserved
oblivion, Levin’s dimensionality and the force of his insistent
signal will continue to be felt.
This is not said by way of conscienceless, or tongue-in-cheek,
praise. Among these five character types there is that which works
against the high aims we may ascribe to Levin as
latter-day Jew­
ish prophe t,
as
literary artist
, as
reporter commissioned to publish
the Tru th .
And certainly Levin, like many another major pro­
fessional writer, does not have an easy time “coming to his best
self at all points” (in Matthew Arnold’s Victorian phrasing) or
“getting it all together” (as we would say today). For one thing,
he sometimes writes too much about what is too topical to be
of sustained and widespread interest; his “masterwork,”
The
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