Tough Poets Press

The Water Wheel

The Water Wheel

The Water Wheel
Julian L. Shapiro (a.k.a. John Sanford)
Early 2020 / 206 pages / Price TBD

First ever reissue of the 1933 semi-autobiographical debut novel by Julian L. Shapiro (1904–2003). In 1935, Shapiro adopted the name of The Water Wheel's protagonist, John Sanford, in hopes that, in a time of rising antisemitism in the U.S., a gentile name would aid book sales. In his earlier novels, he was noted for blending experimental techniques with realism. He was described as "perhaps the most outstanding neglected novelist," by The Cambridge Companion to Jewish American Literature.

While Sanford's later novels were well received — especially The Old Man's Place (1935), Seventy Times Seven (1939), and his masterpiece The People from Heaven (1943) — The Water Wheel was panned by reviewers when it was originally published. The Miami Herald was appalled by the sordidness of the novel, tame by today's standards. In a review titled "Sex, Sin, Slime," they wrote, "This is a first novel. It should be the last." and "It is a pity that God's green trees must be sacrificed to provide paper for printing this stuff." The New York Times was a little kinder. While admiring the author's flair and "originality of language," they dismissed the work as "sensitive, neurotic workings of the Sanford mind, with its defensive egotism and pleasure in self-torment—a study in the immature egotist and his inferiority sense." The review concluded, "Mr. Shapiro, with his verbal brilliance, will do better work in a more objective novel."

Sanford wrote half of his books after he was 80. He published a five-volume autobiography, for which he received a PEN Award and the Los Angeles Times Lifetime Achievement Award. He left three unpublished novels and was writing up until a month before his death at 98.

This edition includes a new introduction by Jack Mearns, professor of psychology at California State University and administrator of Sanford's literary estate.


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