Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like Marquand’s Harry Pulham, Nat Ramsey proves to be a most unreliable narrator, incapable of evaluating, or learning from, the experiences that he describes with authority and authenticity. Even at sixty-five, Nat has learned nothing about women, or about himself, except what he chooses to remember. Quite in keeping with the generation and perceived social stratum that he represents, Nat has lived “through” recent history without, in fact, living it; he has aged without growth or development. Nowhere in his long, even overlong narrative does Nat begin to perceive either the inaccuracy or the consequences of his odd, incurious double perspective toward women: Crucially, he continues to regard such women as Lee Ann with condescension, even as he accepts, and even encourages, the willful manipulations of his “gently-bred” wife.

As befits a former professor, and quite probably an ineffective one, Nat first resumes his story, complete with his own conclusions, and then proceeds to tell it in a fact-filled, verbose, and often rambling manner: In its length, to be sure, “The Old Forest” pushes close against the limits of short fiction, even as the subject matter remains too slight to justify expansion into a short novel. Like Marquand in much of his later fiction, Peter Taylor here practices irony at a level that risks, and even invites, misinterpretation; his narrator is so well drawn and so “convincing” as to risk confusion with the author on the part of unsuspecting readers. Should such a misidentification be made, the tale would lose the dimension of irony and “double vision” that makes it truly memorable.