Review by Israel Drazin
The Eternal Wonder
By Pearl S. Buck
Open Road, 2013, 252 pages
Most readers know of Pearl S, Buck only because of her 1932 masterpiece The Good Earth, but the Nobel Prize winning author, who died in 1973, wrote forty-three novels, twenty-eight nonfiction books, 242 short stories, thirty-seven children’s books, eighteen scripts for film and television, several stage and musical plays, 580 articles and essays, and thousands of letters. This novel was discovered in a storage unit in 2012, and this is the first time it is printed.
Pearl S. Buck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938 for her works until that time: seven novels, two biographies, essays, and articles. Some critics were angry: Buck was only forty-six and, more importantly, her writings were, in their opinions, not “literary,” they were too “readable,” “accessible,” and “popular,” a criticism that could be made of this book.
Buck’s adopted son details some of the facts about his mom’s final years and the discovery of this novel in his introduction to the novel. She died at age eighty. Her final years were chaotic. “She became involved with individuals who targeted her fortune, estranging her from her family, friends, staff, and publishers.” This tragedy apparently accounts for the loss of this manuscript which Buck wrote in her later years. It also seems to explain the mistakes and problems that her son found in the manuscript. “I felt that if she had lived longer, she would have changed parts and extended or altered the ending.” Although he and editors repaired the book, readers will most likely feel, as he and I did, that although the book is interesting, it is not deep, and the ending will not satisfy all readers. “But it is impossible to know just how Pearl Buck, had she lived, might have revised what is. As it stands, an imperfect work.”
But while one may quibble about various aspects of this apparently “final book” by Pearl S. Buck, readers will find the writing almost lyrical. It is the story of a genius, from the time he swam in his mother’s womb until he faced a traumatic event in his early twenties.
Randolph Colfax’s (Rann for short) was a handsome likable boy and man. His genius lay in his ability to learn matters quickly and retain them in his memory with total recall. He knew the numbers and alphabet after hearing them several times. He taught himself to read. He read and memorized an encyclopedia. His major characteristic was his wonder. Where ever he went, whatever he saw or heard, he asked questions about: who, what, where, when, why? And people recognized his genius in this behavior. Yet, although Buck does not mention it or even suggest it, there doesn’t seem to be depth in his knowledge. It is as if he walks about with wide-open eyes, with mouth agape, ever wondering, but never fully understanding. Perhaps Buck is saying that during this early period of his life, Rann was accumulating facts, which little by little he is coming to understand, but he does not achieve this goal by the book’s end.
All of the people in the novel are likable with the possible exception of one newspaper reporter, but what she says is realistic and it adds to the story. Rann has several different, interesting, sexual experiences, wonders about them, but doesn’t seem yet able to fully understand them or how they will affect his later life; but most of them are before he leaves his teen-age years.
Yes; there are some difficulties. The beginning of the book, for example, tells about his and his father’s interest in the relationship between art and science; but after awhile this subject is essentially dropped. The book’s ending, although thought-provoking, comes out of the blue, with no real connection with what precedes it and could have been helped with a sizable expansion. Yet, despite shortcomings, this is an interesting book.