David Latham

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 991

[Dark Glasses contains] three or four of the best examples in all of literature of how the short story works. The weaker of the twelve stories could be dismissed on the assumption that they were included because of Hood's predilection for arranging his "pieces according to complex numerologies" that provide "a scaffolding for the imagination."… (p. 105)

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Hood's strength lies in his ability to shape what he calls the "physical form" of material as diffuse as metaphysical speculation. Thus in terms of both manner and matter Hood is like the painter Alex Colville. Neither artist can rid himself "of those four or five bloody sets of metaphysical states" that Mathew Goderich (the persona for Hood's projected twelve volume prose epic) complained about: "Permanence and change; sameness and difference; being and becoming; form and matter."… Both Hood and Colville react to the same dilemma by concentrating on the spirit of the shapes of things: "If you pay close enough attention to things, stare at them, concentrate on them as hard as you can, not just with your intelligence, but with your feelings and instincts, you begin to apprehend the forms in them."… Hood is less impressive in his fiction than in his journalism because he frequently exploits artifice to impose an extrinsic pattern on his fiction…. By emphasizing [a] kind of extrinsic symbolism Hood reinforces his "scaffolding of the imagination" at the expense of obscuring the more important implications of the metaphor concerning time and space. The child may be thought safe from the railroad tracks that lie beyond the garden fence but the pendulum motion of the swing suggests that the real journey from the garden is a temporal one.

At his best Hood succeeds in complementing the physical form of his stories with an inner scaffolding developed through the manipulation of metaphors which seem to emerge from within the incident. "Going out as a Ghost" is an excellent story that presents two strands of action which appear to be unrelated but actually are connected through the metaphor of the mask—the convincing disguises of a family's Halloween costumes and the suspected disguise of a convicted con-artist. The two story lines complement one another and then meet when the father suspiciously hangs up the phone on his desperate friend and then turns to reward the small Halloween visitor who is dressed as a ghost—the same unimaginative costume which the father had considered suitable for himself. This and the other successful stories illustrate the epigraph that Hood chose for the collection: "For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face." Most of Hood's characters quickly retreat from the impact of the brief moment of self-revelation. (pp. 105-06)

When Hood fails to develop an intrinsic metaphor he reveals his weakness as a story-teller and leaves himself wide open to the charge first made ten years ago by Robert Fulford that his natural medium is journalism rather than fiction. Hood can objectify his metaphysical speculations into a story through the manipulation of metaphor but when he fails with metaphor he has no skill with character or incident to fall back on. "The Chess Match" is the one story in which the portrayal of character is the dominant feature. The eighty-six year old Page Calverly is a match for Margaret Laurence's Hagar Shipley. His petty crankiness is comical but understandable as we see how he maintains his dignity by determining what can be endured with the least discomfort. Yet "The Chess Match" still demonstrates how Hood's metaphors work best when they inform the story rather than supply external scaffolding. Even the minor metaphors are well exploited here. "Tortoise-like" is an adjective that describes Calverly's walk but it also anticipates the image of the impaled spider that Calverly resembles after he has slipped and fallen which in turn raises the insolent question of why such an ugly specimen should be preserved.

In "The Hole" the metaphor is given no story to support. As the idle musings of a philosophy professor, "The Hole" is really little more than a commentary on a song by Thomas Carew…. "The Pitcher" is ostensibly a satire on the American dream in which the common man through dedication (and money) becomes an inspiration to American youth. But the satire seems no more than an excuse for some exciting sports talk….

As the latest addition to Hood's canon, Dark Glasses makes it difficult to judge the nature of Hood's talent. Documentary fantasy is the term he has coined to describe the compromise between fiction and journalism that he is seeking to achieve…. (p. 107)

Personal journalism with epic intentions is a genre which Hood has not mastered. A comparison of the title essay from The Governor's Bridge Is Closed (Hood's personal recollection of his childhood in Toronto during the 1930s) and the first volume of his documentary fantasy, A Swing in the Garden (similar recollections now objectified as the gospel according to Mathew Goderich), suggests that Hood's gifts are more suited to journalism. His essay is personal, informal, and speculative. His documentary fantasy must depend on character, structure, and incident, but being weak on character and incident it is little more than a longer and less personal essay, sustained only by its structure. (pp. 107-08)

Hood could overcome the problem of his documentary fantasy by being more directly personal as he is in his essays…. But any wish that Hood would abandon all pretense of fictional technique must be modified by the brilliance of some of the short stories from Dark Glasses which proves that he is capable of producing great fiction. Still the nature of the strength of these stories, being limited to the exploitation of metaphor, reveals the problems that Hood must confront if the epic which he is devoting his life to is to serve the nation. (p. 108)

David Latham, "Optical Allusions," in Essays on Canadian Writing (© Essays on Canadian Writing Ltd.), Nos. 7 & 8, Fall, 1977, pp. 105-08.

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