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William Goyen Biography

(1915–83), The House of Breath, Ghost and Flesh, Faces of Blood Kindred, Collected Stories

American novelist and short-story writer, born in Trinity, Texas, educated at Rice Institute. During the Second World War he served as an officer in the navy. Goyen's first novel, The House of Breath (1950), composed of the linked accounts of lives in a small town loosely connected by a first-person narrator, was distinguished by the voluptuous texture of its prose and its lush evocations of landscape. The elements of myth, fantasy, and lavish lyricism that characterize this novel are also evident in most of Goyen's short fiction, collected in Ghost and Flesh (1952), Faces of Blood Kindred (1960), Collected Stories (1975), and Had I a Hundred Mouths (1985), with a critical introduction by Joyce Carol Oates, and in his novels In a Farther Country (1955), the picaresque tale of a Spanish-American woman's dream of a united Spain, and Savata, My Fair Sister (1963), in which the religious ardour of one sister is pitted against the vitality of another. The later novels were often dismissed as bizarre, plotless, and fantastic. The controversial Come, the Restorer (1974) conflates Christian symbolism with sexual imagery in a story of an entire town's projection of its quest for a saviour on the restorer of old photographs, Mr de Persia. A final novel, Arcadio (1983), the monologue of a hermaphrodite, raises contemporary issues of gender and sexuality in Goyen's customary frame of Latinized life in Texas and New Mexico.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Ellen Gilchrist Biography to Grain