Benefit Street

By David Cornel De Jong
MR. DE JONG quotes a Providence saying that “anything can happen on Benefit Street"; but everything in his novel happens in Penny McGuire’s lodging house, which happens to be on Benefit Street. For a good many chapters one has the impression that Penny’s lodging house is a cabinet of human freaks.
There is certainly very little that any Benefit Streeter would recognize as local and familiar except the housefronts depicted on the jacket. But as one reads on, the characters are seen to have been conceived in a kind of Dostoievskian pathos, as no more mad than most of us, but only lonelier. And so the novel grows steadily stronger, as if the author gradually becomes acquainted with his own mental population, just as we do. The dipsomaniac lady, the tubercular boy, the hare lipped professor, the peepingTom husband and his ferocious wife, the old maid mistress of the emasculated cat, the two prostitutes, the depraved young poet, and the rest, somehow finally click into a pattern; and just then comes the tornado-and-flood to wash everything and some of them away.
It is all very entertaining, some of it really sad, and much very good. If we choose we can read into this all sorts of larger significances. R. M. G.