Hugh Garner Sandra Martin - Essay

Sandra Martin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Garner is a comfortable writer. Invariably he tells a story that has both a beginning and an end and he uses a style that, while colourful, is devoid of artifice and pretentiousness. Often there is a narrator who speaks with a voice crackling with hard-earned experience. He is a regular guy, one who knows the way of the world. He may be soaked in cynicism and bitterness, nevertheless he is full of compassion for his fellow sufferers. Years ago he would have been in the thick of the story; now he is content to be a voyeur, watching as bullies and snobs get what's coming to them and the meek, bespectacled little guy over in the corner emerges as a hero.

Garner's world, which is almost exclusively urban, is filled with little people. Whether bartenders, clerks, mechanics; prostitutes, drunks, or murderers, the characters are diminished by the sordid pettiness of their lives; they respond physically, often brutally. As the author grows older, so do the characters, precipitating a new series of dilemmas about aging, unachieved goals, and loneliness.

The Legs of the Lame adheres to the ground rules, but with a surfeit of violence. Nine of the 14 stories in the collection deal with death and six are about murders….

The title story is one of the more interesting ones. A rock promoter, Gordon Beaton, is abandoned by his group (named, ironically, "The Flack") with barely the price of a beer. Beaton meets a young faith healer, Clay Burridge, and talks himself into the job of business manager and advance man for the evangelist. All goes well until Burridge loses faith in himself as the interpreter and spokesman for Jesus Christ and quits the evangelical circuit. Garner manipulates our sympathies until we feel sorry for Beaton, the parasite who must find a new host. Beaton responds to his latest misfortune in typical style by getting drunk.

The title is taken from Proverbs: "The legs of the lame are not straight; so is a parable in the mouth of fools." It's a good summation of the characters and themes. Unfortunately, the problems (not to mention the solutions) presented in these stories are as axiomatic as the scripture quoted above. The results are predictable, sometimes trite. (p. 40)

Sandra Martin, in Books in Canada, March, 1977.