The Widower's Son

by Alan Sillitoe
Harper & Row, $8.95
Admirers of Alan Sillitoe’s fiction by now expect to find his heroes struggling to establish some identity in a society that despises individuality, and readers of The Widower’s Son will not be disappointed. In this latest novel Sillitoe takes on the British army, examining the effects of the stiff-upper-lip tradition on a man better suited to a less rigid way of life.
We are introduced to Colonel William Scorton, trained from his pre-Depression childhood in the military virtues. His life is defined by pride, doggedness, and systematic thought, and if he sometimes doubts the ultimate worth of those qualities, it is not until the horrors of Dunkirk that he doubts their usefulness in fending off emotional chaos. By then it is too late; adept solely in the arts of war, Scorton strives to contend with civilian life and marriage, only to succumb at last before the onslaught of conflicting passions.
The Widower’s Son lacks the verve of Sillitoe’s early work, but there are compensations. Deceptively straightforward, the book portrays the imaginative life of an unimaginative man—a trick Sillitoe pulls off with style and poignancy.
—E. S. Duvall