Book Reviews - Autumn 2021

Poet of the Extreme

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A noted novelist considers the life of an American master

By Steven G. Kellman | September 7, 2021
If Stephen Crane had not died at age 28, American literature might now look quite different. (Wikimedia Commons)
If Stephen Crane had not died at age 28, American literature might now look quite different. (Wikimedia Commons)

Burning Boy: The Life and Work of Stephen Crane by Paul Auster; Henry Holt, 800 pp., $35

The life and work of Stephen Crane derived gravity from brevity. Not one of his novels is much more than a hundred pages long, and they and his short stories strip language to its potent minimum. Crane’s short but prodigious life—he died, of tuberculosis, five months before his 29th birthday—observed the same concision. His hold on the public imagination has also lacked longevity. Crane’s most famous novel, The Red Badge of Courage (1895), is no longer required reading in American schools, and his other greatest hits—Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893), “The Open Boat” (1897), The Monster (1898), “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” (1898), and “The Blue Hotel” (1898)—have fallen out of the cultural conversation.

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