Supper Waltz Wilson by Owen Marshall.
Reviewed by Frank Sargeson
'Islands' October 1980.
Mr Marshall's name first became known to me when the title story of his book appeared in the Listener; but strangely, I was not much prepared for the powerful impact the book had on me.
I see now that the author is remarkable for achieving his success not by any striking economy of language (which is often thought to be the sine qua non of short story writing)- on the contrary by creating a verbal density which according to the rules could well play havoc with any clear narrative line.
But it appears that no hard and fast line of approach to Mr Marshall will do. In story after story he achieves his results when the reader is confronted by the accumulation of abrupt items of information without (for me that is to say), much close and enriching relevance to what would appear to be the matter in hand. Not however that Mr Marshall's detail is ever totally irrelevant: far from it. Because it is only when we have finished reading a given story that we understand that besides a story in the more usual sense, we have experienced an environment which has mysteriously become a kind of character in its own right.
And perhaps I can make my meaning clearer if I exaggerate and say that while reading I was now and then prompted to begin counting the number of occasions when it appeared to be the author's purpose to introduce another motor vehicle- about the working parts of which I was provided with a good many apposite items of information. And perhaps it is to the point if say that living as I do on a modern suburban road which is not, and never has been a motorway (although virtually all motorists have long since converted themselves to the belief that in fact it is), I have never reconciled myself to the daily undignified scramble which has so far enabled me to stay alive.
Well anyhow ,there it is. as fine as a book of stories as this country is likely to see this year, the next or the one after- and so on. And because of the density one that will stand close reading for many years to come. One of my favourites is 'Promise Bluff', about a man who vowed to create some kind of substantial and permanent memorial to a war cobber casualty-and at last succeeded despite a mysterious nagging soreness which never ceased to plague him in the chest and left arm.
Also, it may sound unkind but I should, I think, inform the reader that in my view easily the finest story Mr Marshall has so far published does not figure in this handsome Pegasus edition. No it appeared in the 'Islands 28' (March 1980) and is entitled 'Thinking of Bagheera'. It is about the destruction of a cat and here for a change environmental detail is severely cut. All is centred upon a lovely living creature brought into fatal relation with a boy and the family he belongs to. I find it hard to imagine anyone arriving at the conclusion of this story without becoming aware of a tear of sensibility upon his cheek.
Contents of Collection
Supper Waltz Wilson
Something of a Decision
A Southland Girl
The Pannett Junction
The Beginning of an Old Man
The Cry for Barabbas
The Naming of Parts
One of the Majority
Descent from the Flugelhorn