David Rudkin Erika Munk - Essay

Erika Munk

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Ashes] is astonishing—it affirms life without lying. The story is simple and ordinary, but touches on every major private and public concern; it is wonderfully written and structured with meticulous care, but its artfulness is never ornamental or self-serving….

This is really Colin's play, about his fight against death. He loses his heritage and his inheritor; he no longer can place his hope for meaning either in past or future; the present is all that exists. [He] sums up his severance from the past by wryly transmuting a basic taunt: "Phoenix yerself!" That is: Rise up out of your own strength, be born of nothing. Of course the phoenix is the bird resurrected from ashes, but it has other senses, all appropriate: "Phoenix" means the blood-red one, according to Graves, "a title given to the moon as goddess of death-in-life," and Phoenix was the name of Achilles' tutor, blind and cursed with childlessness. Ashes's grim themes of sterility, death, burning, futile knowledge, all are held paradoxically in a symbol which as a whole means resurrection….

The language [is] at once strong and nuanced…. Much of the dialogue is natural, funny, and biting but understated, not evading emotion but choosing to be, well, British. Colin (who has been a writer) also uses a meditative tone, verging on the ironically intentional literary, to discuss the failure of his future and his rejection by the past ("the clan, from whose loins I come, had turned me out; to my own loins no child of tomorrow shall come: and I felt so—severed."). Anne, always more direct, narrates rather than meditates. No earth-mother cliché, she addresses her fetus, "Blood-beast. Take over the graveyard in your own good time and your own right. If you see our values have failed us, cack on our graves."

Erika Munk, "Resurrection from the Ashes," in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1977), Vol. XXI, No. 1, January 3, 1977, p. 63.