Binstead's Safari (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
Though the main characters in Rachel Ingalls’ Binstead’s Safari are American, the novel is set in England (London) and Africa. Millie and Stan Binstead, in fact, are like some of Henry James’s characters in that they are the victims of assumptions which change when they encounter people and locales foreign to them. This kind of situation seems natural to Ingalls, an American expatriate who, like James before her, lives in England, where she settled in 1964 and where Binstead’s Safari was first published in 1983. Her publishing career, indeed, has followed her taking up residence in England; The Pearlkillers appeared in 1964, followed by Theft (1970), Mediterranean Cruise (1973), The Man Who Was Left Behind and Other Stories (1974), Mrs. Caliban (1982), and, after Binstead’s Safari, Something to Write Home About: Stories (1988). Binstead’s Safari itself records the emotional recovery of a woman trapped and debased by her marriage. It also traces how her husband comes to love her again and to understand himself for the first time.
Millie Binstead has spent most of her marriage feeling worthless. Her husband Stan, a professor, has done little if anything to help her. In fact, the more passive and enervated Millie has become, the more Stan has despised her. Moreover, Stan has found out that he is not impotent and Millie that she is not barren, but neither has told the other; as a result, each thinks the other is to blame for their not having children. Unfortunately, neither really wants to have a child by the other. In effect, they have become strangers to each other; boredom has led Stan to other women, and self-pity has led Millie to the resentful pretense that she can do nothing on her own.
This grim state of affairs begins to change when the Binsteads travel to London, then to Africa. Stan has gotten a grant to research what he believes to be an unusual lion cult in Africa. Surprisingly Millie insists on going along, though Stan wants to leave her behind. In London, while Stan spends his time with various colleagues, including Jack, an old friend who sets him up with a woman, Millie goes exploring on her own. She visits museums and attends the ballet, her curiosity and energy no longer dormant.
During the early (town) phase of their stay in Africa, Stan pays Ian Foster and his younger partner Nicholas Fairchild, veteran big-game hunters and longtime residents of the area, to guide the Binsteads on a safari into lion country. Millie, meanwhile, meets and has an affair with Henry Lewis, a legendary local hunter and an expert on lions.
Stan has trouble pinning down the lion cult he has come to Africa to research. His London friend Jack thinks that it is a provincial extortion racket, and locals such as Ian Foster seem to know little if anything about the cult. Protocol and the language barrier also prevent Stan from learning much in the villages he visits on the safari.
Millie, meanwhile, blossoms in the earthy environment in which she finds herself. Lewis has ignited her sexual and romantic feelings, and she exchanges love letters with him through intermediaries. She discovers,...
(The entire section is 1317 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
The Atlantic. CCLXI, March, 1988, p. 100.
Booklist. LXXXIV, February 1, 1988, p. 903.
Chicago Tribune. February 14, 1988, XIV, p. 4.
Kirkus Reviews. LV, December 15, 1987, p. 1692.
Library Journal. CXIII, February 1, 1988, p. 75.
Los Angeles Times. March 29, 1988, V, p. 1.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, April 17, 1988, p. 42.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXII, December 18, 1987, p. 55.
Time. CXXXI, April 11, 1988, p. 74.
The Wall Street Journal. March 15, 1988, p. 32.
The Washington Post Book World. XVIII, March 6, 1988, p. 9.