The Magazine

Inside the Whale

Great strength, glaring weakness, in a debut novel.

Nov 7, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 08 • By STEFAN BECK
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Harbach’s debut may suffer a little from the double-edged sword of great publicity. Its ending, which deserves not to be spoiled, may be implausible, maddening, over the top in a way it should take a long career to live down. And yes, Harbach may share some tiresome anxieties with his hypereducated peers. Yet he needn’t worry overmuch about the taint of these deficiencies. Melville wrote in Redburn: “Talk not of the bitterness of middle-age and after life; a boy can feel all that, and much more, when upon his young soul the mildew has fallen; and the fruit, which with others is only blasted after ripeness, with him is nipped in the first blossom and bud.”

There are no flies on Harbach. He’s sure to brush off the mildew and keep growing. As a scout might say, he’s a talent to watch.

Stefan Beck writes on fiction for the New Criterion and elsewhere.