Russell M. Brown

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 671

Despite Rooke's versatility, there is something about all his fiction that remains identifiable, characteristic, and uniquely personal. Made out of internalized perceptions, his stories are typically ones in which the central character's mind becomes a reflecting pool through which we glimpse the external world. In the course of the story a few stones are dropped in, and as their ripples spread, the images we thought we had recognized reorganize themselves into intriguing new patterns which coalesce, vanish, and reappear, before giving way to something else again. The experience of stories such as these is perhaps closest to that of a particularly vivid dream: one is drawn into a dislocating scene, undergoes a puzzling but compelling experience, and is released somehow more troubled than enlightened.

I don't mean to suggest that Rooke's stories have not also had their own intense quality of reality, for they have. In their own way his first three collections have served to provide one man's records of life lived in the later twentieth century. This is less true, however, of Cry Evil.

From the very first words of [Cry Evil], Rooke's newest collection, ("Here's a story"), it becomes clear that we are dealing with a writer who is now trying out the self-conscious and self-reflexive mode of post-modernism. As we move through this book, we encounter something of the exhaustion, the labyrinths and the narrative games of writers like Barth. Indeed, the first story "The Deacon's Tale" defines not only the directions of the fiction which follows, but the reasons new directions are necessary. In the opening story Rooke's narrator is no longer as fluent as he has been. He now encounters trouble telling his tale, and reality intrudes as it has not before—especially in the form of his wife's voice, a voice which speaks for protesting readers and challenges his right to his story, complaining about the loss of conventional mimesis and asking for more clarity. The Deacon, as tale-teller from way back, is disturbed by these objections and yet acknowledges their force…. But in the story which closes the book "Adolpho's Disappeared and We Haven't a Clue Where to Find Him," the narrative has moved no closer to the conventions of reality and the narrator seems no less dispirited. (p. 36)

Between these two framing tales we are given a series of ingenious narrative variations that are evidence of the search for renewed creative energy…. "Friendship and Property," standing in the middle of the volume,… is more traditional than the others, a reminder of Rooke's earlier fiction (in fact a continuation of a series of stories begun in his last collection), and an indication of his unwillingness to abandon that mode entirely.

What then do we make of this work as a whole? Although not nearly so self-flagellatingly inventive as Barth's work, this book seems almost a gesture towards Lost in the Funhouse: the writer having arrived late on the modern scene and found that all the old stories have been told, invites us to observe instead his struggle with his craft and spends his time demonstrating his technical skills. But if this is all there is then the stories of Cry Evil themselves strike us as somewhat belated. After all it has been twelve years since Barth gave us those illustrations of the artist's plight … (pp. 36-7)

This is not all there is: perhaps by emphasizing this aspect of these stories I have somewhat distorted Cry Evil. Rooke's experiments with technique are never so purely technical as Barth's were, or as others have been since, and there is still emotion embedded in these stories, still human compulsions and neuroses which lie under the words to trouble and intrigue us. There are, after all, depths that wit and cleverness do not sound—and Rooke seems to be a writer who cannot but choose to remind us of those depths, even in stories as ingenious as these newest ones. (p. 37)

Russell M. Brown, "Experiment and Compulsion," in The Canadian Forum, Vol. LX, No. 701, August, 1980, pp. 36-7.

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