First published in 1968, The Sophomore was Barry Spacks’ debut novel: he subsequently turned to poetry over prose, and has been writing and teaching in that form ever since – a shame only in the sense that The Sophomore is a polished laugh-out-loud gem, and superior practitioners of the comic novel are rare enough.
The novel’s protagonist is Harry Zissel, 22 years old, a college sophomore who plans to be a Major American Writer. Unfortunately Harry just can’t seem to finish a piece of writing of any appreciable length. Then his girlfriend Miriam announces she’s pregnant. Suddenly Harry fears he’ll end up a married wage-slave, the seeming fate of his former comrade Arthur Thompson. Leaving his apartment to get breakfast, Harry decides instead to hit the road, hoping to live the American dream of ‘starting afresh’, mildly anxious that in fact he is meant to buck up, straighten out, do some work for a change…
Much praised in 1968, The Sophomore’s reputation has endured, with thanks in no small part to William Boyd who has frequently praised it as a key early influence on his own work. And William has graciously offered us a fresh endorsement for the jacket of our edition:
‘The Sophomore by Barry Spacks is that rare beast: a clever, sophisticated novel that is very, very funny. It’s like an American Lucky Jim – at once hilarious, shrewd and very true. A complete delight.’ William Boyd
Faber Finds is delighted to be returning The Sophomore to readers in 2012. You can order the paperback here and the ebook here. Our Finds edition includes a new preface in the form of a Q&A about the novel between Barry Spacks and me, from which I offer the following by Barry about the novel’s genesis:
“The seed of the book came to life one day in a writing workshop where I offered the group what I thought was a deeply mournful short story, centred on Harry’s desire to be recognized as a significant artist without creating anything in the way of significant art. The reaction in the workshop was laughter… I hadn’t expected that, hadn’t seen the comic potential in the character’s stance until then. And the tonic of laughter released the tone of the book to follow… the mock-epic strain in the narrative’s tone evolved from this workshop recognition that such self-importance is funny.
Finding what I came to call the ‘X’ plot of reversals and repetitions was a matter of sweating it out over the typewriter keys… But the early scene where [Harry’s] aunt and mother pay a surprise call on Harry [at college] and Miriam has to hide in a closet? That came right out of my own experience…”