Ouida Sebestyen Patricia Lee Gauch - Essay

Patricia Lee Gauch

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is risky for an author to tackle stock characters and stock situations in a novel. Take "Far From Home." Down-and-out orphan of deaf-and-dumb mother begs mother's former employer (and maybe lover) for room at failing boarding house only to meet aging prankster, pregnant bootlegger's wife and nosey neighborhood kid. Not only could this have ended up a stock story, it could have ended up a melodrama.

It didn't, largely because of an honest character named Salty….

At times the activity around Buckley Arms, a kind of 1920's Noah's ark, flips by like a penny movie. The prankster Hardy is forever clowning, Jo has her baby in Salty's room, Mam runs away, and a Fourth of July parade almost steals the ending. But while Salty goes along with it all, he is never taken over by it. Author Sebestyen sees to that with moments like Salty's first lonely night at the Arms, when he gets lost in the yard stumbling over tin cans and "grabbing at moon shadows."

Amid the parades and fireworks Ouida Sebestyen lets her character touch the others honestly "with a little bluster of hope" and produces an aching irony, for it is July 1929, the end of an era. One only wonders if she needed the nonstop action and a cast that size when she had a year like '29, a character like Salty and a notably sensitive style.

Patricia Lee Gauch, in a review of "Far from Home," in The New York Times Book Review, January 18, 1981, p. 31.