James Wolcott’s optimistic pronouncement three years ago that “the Dawn Powell boom is about to be heard again” has been followed by silence. According to Wolcott, Powell, the bard of midcentury Greenwich Village, was supposed to be the literary comeback story of the 1990s. Why the re-publication of several of her novels has failed to create a lasting commotion is a question that is worth pondering.

Here was a writer who could lampoon the bourgeoisie as well as Sinclair Lewis did, and she avoided Lewis’s satirical overkill. She conjured a world of East Coast socialites as engaging as that of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and she avoided Fitzgerald’s self-indulgent and hackneyed romantic situations. Her work brimmed with intelligence, honesty, and humor. True, it often broke down on the technical side. But then the malformed plot or the tiresome reappearance of the same personality under different names in many of a...

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