"One of my all-time favorite novels...Merle Miller has written what I think is probably the purest example of the novel as autobiography that I’ve ever read. I found unforgettable his stark and stunning portrait of an Iowa-born former child prodigy whose inability to love stems from a lacerating self-hatred. Throughout his life Joshua Bland has systematically destroyed whatever happiness could be his, knowing exactly what he was doing as he did it, but unable to stop himself. His behavior, which will perhaps be inexplicable to some readers, seemed all too understandable to me... A Gay and Melancholy Sound
is certainly grounded in the great historical events of the mid-twentieth century – the Second World War and McCarthyism, to take two notable examples. Yet, Miller’s novel never feels dated or awkward: there’s no strong whiff of the long-dead past emanating from its pages. Indeed, there’s enough snark, emotional pain, and irony to satisfy even the most demanding twenty-first century reader."
-- Nancy Pearl, author of the Book Lust series.
"One of the two or three really important books to come along in this country since the war. I cannot remember having read a novel that disturbed and moved me as deeply as this one has done. Nor have I read one in which the ideas and technical execution have been so perfectly matched. It is one of the rare truthful books, painfully and blindingly so. He has caught at least one of the deepest truths about our times: perhaps (I hope) not the only truth there is, but certainly one of the most important. It is not only his best book: that goes without saying. It is one of the best books."
-- Paxton Davis, author of
Being a Boy
"It's Merle Miller's best book—and engrossing nightmare. He has always been eloquent and clever. But in this story he is passionate too. His idea for a victim-hero is a knockout, the best protagonist for the kind of indictment of American life he makes that I've encountered."
–- Ira Wolfert, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Tucker"s People
From Kirkus Reviews
In his most ambitious book (others: That Winter, Reunion, A Secret Understanding
) and possibly longest, Merle Miller has taken a stencil of modern American life and has omitted few of its smudges. His hero, or (as he calls himself) anti-hero, Joshua Bland, former child prodigy, "again Quiz Kid," World War II hero, theatrical producer, at 37 [is] in utter despair ... He records on tape the story of his life, and the novel is told largely in flashback. Bland's life (the significance of the name is obvious) consists of a series of disorders -- personal and sociological, and his record contains more villains than heroes. Villains: not surprisingly, his mother, an "artsy-craftsy," culture hound who was determined that her child would be a genius; her second husband, Petrarch Pavan, a characterless fraud, whom Josh most clearly resembled; his first wife Letty, a dedicated social climber who made a monster of their daughter; and a number of other general types, epitomizing moral vacuity among the more publicized and commercial aspects of American life -- in Hollywood, Washington and New York. Bland is, of course, sensitive and intelligent enough to be able to tell the good guys from the bad; his tragedy (the publisher's word) is that he is unable to properly respond to the best influences in his life and seems, in fact, compelled to destroy those people who revealed their weakness by loving him. Now [he has] alienated the last person who might have helped him -- his second wife.... Bland's problem is an increasingly familiar one in American fiction -- the inability to "love." The difficulty is that the word is used as if its mere statement were sufficient to establish the worth of the character. Merle Miller's "anti-hero," beginning as a freak, never had a chance. But apart from essentials there is no question that the book is clever, witty, and intelligent and that Merle Miller has accurately identified the American infirmities.