"I was twenty when I followed away from my town a trapeze family, aerialists, a group of beautiful winged people, mother, father, son and daughter. They were the Ishbels." Chris, whose leg is injured, and his lover Stella, with whom he lives in a ruined, abandoned house; Chris's male nurse; Marvello the circus aerialist; a lighthouse keeper; a flagpole sitter in small-town America - these are the creatures of William Goyen's visionary fable of love, lust, and loneliness. Half a Look of Cain: A Fantastical Narrative was written in the 1950s and early 1960s, and is now being published for the first time. Part fable and part rhapsodic exploration of desire and loss, Half a Look of Cain bears Goyen's unmistakable artistic signature on every page. Too far ahead of its time in its swirling visionary structure, this novel was rejected by Goyen's first publisher as not sufficiently commercial and remained unpublished despite extensive revisions. The novel is shaped as a group of "medallions" - a series of related episodes. It dreams of defying mortality - as if living in the air, like the aerialists or the flagpole sitter - and of finding perfect companionship in lover and friend. The novel is both a rediscovered cry against the conformity and suppressed emotions of the 1950s and a celebration of passion. Reginald Gibbons has edited the novel from the author's multiple manuscripts and has contributed an illuminating afterword.
Charles William Goyen (April 24, 1915 - August 30, 1983) was an American novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet, editor, and teacher. Born in a small town in East Texas, these roots would influence his work for his entire life. In World War II he served as an officer aboard an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific, where he began work on one of his most important and critically acclaimed books, The House of Breath. After the war and through the 1950s he published short stories, collections of stories, other novels, and plays. He never achieved commercial success in America, but his translated work was highly regarded in Europe. During his life he could not completely support himself through his writing, so at various times he took work as an editor and teacher at several prominent universities.