Leon Rooke Sally Beauman - Essay

Sally Beauman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[There] is a feeling of frustration about [the stories in "Last One Home Sleeps in the Yellow Bed"], as if the writer felt his chosen keyboard were too small, and he was constantly flexing his fingers, eager to modulate from major to minor, throw in a few arpeggios and contrapuntal cross references; in short, as if he wanted to write, not short stories at all, but a novel. Not that it's such a bad fault to have themes which are too big for your medium. Most short-story writers seem to have themes which are too small—nasty, tight, neat little themes which can be cleverly exploited for 4,000 words and then rounded off with a cheap "point" or "twist"—the Somerset Maugham-Saki syndrome, you might call it. At least, Leon Rooke doesn't suffer from that.

There are five short stories in this collection, and one short novel, "Brush Fire." Two of the stories work; three of them suffer from a sort of intellectual and stylistic indigestion. "When the Swimmers on the Beach Have All Gone Home," for instance, starts off well enough: an ex-lifeguard saves a girl who jumps off a bridge; it turns out she jumped, not to get away from him, but to find him; they go back to his apartment; they prevaricate; they end up in each other's arms…. The basic idea is good. Pinter, for instance, has written brilliant plays about relationships poisoned by gratefulness. But here too much else gets dragged in…. [Somehow] the originality of the idea erodes into...

(The entire section is 569 words.)