Bruce Bawer at The Hudson Review:
It’s curious: on the one hand, Stevens was constantly noticing people around him (such as a “doddering girl” with “idiot eyes” whom he espied in church) who were much worse off than he was—and whom he regarded with meticulously recorded contempt; on the other hand, he felt extremely sorry for himself, as if absolutely everyone else’s existence were richer than his, as if he weren’t getting anywhere near the life he deserved. So taken in are we by his conviction that the fates had dealt him a lousy hand that we’re thrown for a loop when, at age twenty-eight, Stevens—who at the time was working as a legal advisor for the Equitable Life Assurance Company—runs down to Washington, D.C., to meet with President Theodore Roosevelt to discuss getting “the country back on its feet in the wake of the financial downturn.”
Pretty impressive. Why, then, wasn’t this level of achievement enough for him? How did he come by his sky-high expectations? To whose life was he comparing his own?
Often, on weekends during those bachelor years, Stevens wandered lonely as a cloud along the Palisades, where he sat alone for hours at a time brooding about the meaning of life, death, and the universe. Mariani exhaustively paraphrases these musings and seems to take them very seriously; yet one can’t help being reminded of Byron’s facetious account of the young Don Juan, whose unconsummated longing for Donna Julia causes him to “wander . . . by the glassy brooks,” pursuing “self-communion with his own high soul,” until he “turn[s], without perceiving his condition, / Like Coleridge, into a metaphysician.” Briefly put, Stevens, like Don Juan, was horny.