In the vein of Eudora Welty and Charles Dickens, Hortense Calisher’s astounding first novel examines a young man’s detachment from the world—and his struggle to rejoin it
Pierre Goodman enjoys an idyllic childhood as the son of a widowed dressmaker in post–World War I England. But paradise is ripped from him at age ten when he and his mother immigrate to a small town in Alabama. Yearning to regain peace within his own mind and aided by his photographic memory, he begins falsely but completely enveloping himself in the lives of others. He yearns to become not merely a listener to the world, but also a singer in its chorus. In doing so, Pierre’s life becomes an extraordinary document of his time and place as he finds himself a part of history over and over again. He testifies against the Klan in the Deep South, joins the navy during World War II, experiences love, and eventually finds his way back to England as an entirely changed man.