John Buell Ira Hauptman - Essay

Ira Hauptman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Playground] is a novel about man and nature. The man is pretty close to nobody in particular—which by the logic of some novels is supposed to make us see ourselves in him—and the nature, though a carefully identified segment of primeval Canada, is really any old conveniently featureless wilderness of water and trees.

The human half of this well-worn dialectic is Spence Morrison, who [crash-lands in the wilderness and] … spends most of the novel alone with his descriptive powers.

Well, not quite alone. To guide him there emerges from his subconscious a know-it-all inner voice that sounds like an impeccably starched straightman talking his way toward a pie in the face. Unfortunately, it's supposed to be the whisper of latent resourcefulness. The voice helps him dry his clothes, and later look for food, and in general is as helpful as Robinson Crusoe's Friday and also eats less and doesn't want to beat him at checkers.

He survives nature for three weeks, tells himself he's learned something, and then is rescued just in time, when Playground has stumbled through as many ironic permutations of his two lives as it can conceive….

Playground is a dutiful novel in a fussy way, and gives the impression that it's recording what it has to more than what it wants to…. Writer and reader seem locked in some obligatory dance that neither of them can lead.

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(The entire section is 496 words.)