Kenneth Gibson (review date 1970)
SOURCE: A review of The Lady Who Sold Furniture, in Canadian Forum, Vol. 50, November, 1970, p. 311.
[In the following essay, Gibson provides a favorable review of The Lady Who Sold Furniture.]
A perfectly insane and abject terror … raying … influences fatal to life.
Thus, like his father and brother, Henry James speaks of a horrible, toad-like daemon who represents the cold emptiness behind things, possessions, action and, as the two writers under discussion so brilliantly show, words. One might be careless enough to name the experience “existential,” did we know that such terrors are named (“symptom,” “syndrome,”) only that we may deal with them more comfortably: and with another set of empty words.
To deal with the matter requires a style usually called “clinical.” In Metcalf's and Bailey's books the epithet is exact: both deal with the strangeness, the otherness, of life. Even when the antagonist-hero of Trespasses mocks himself as an “Alienated Man,” he is unconvincing in his rejection. For it is Bailey's stratagem to present Ralph Hick's dilemma as a series, first of labelled incidents, like file-cards; then as monologues from correlative characters who know of, or have watched Hicks' disintegration following his wife's suicide; and finally as a capitulative narration connecting the labels and asserting his gradual claim to the title of a man and not a psychic jigsaw. Hicks' fear of life is aimed at his wife Ellie, she of the “cow's eyes.” It's as if he has heaped on her all his memories—she becomes them—of his past: his clever successes as “Mummy's Ralphie”; his Prize Boy mask; and always, always, his hideous view of sexuality as aligned with madness (like his cousin, Harry: “I have a dog inside me. He's quiet all day. He howls at night.”) and with death, of the heart, of the flesh. His influence is so fatal to life that Ellie can only “hack, hack, hack,” with a razorblade in the bathroom of a rented flat: “Ralph. I would rather be dead than live with your contempt.”
Bailey's techniques may not be radical, but, quite simply, his novel is magnificent. The two unformed and unfocussed people in the centre are hemmed about...
(The entire section is 970 words.)