Romain Gary William Barrett - Essay

William Barrett

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hissing Taies … is a good illustration of [Romain Gary's] copious and lively imagination; and though his facility does not always serve him equally well, since the stories are quite uneven, the collection as a whole is remarkably provocative and enjoyable.

Most of the stories provide us with some melodramatic villain to hiss at. M. Gary revives successfully the old-fashioned story—like those of O. Henry, Frank Stockton, or some of Robert Louis Stevenson—that has a definite anecdotal point, perhaps even some twist at the end, rather than merely presenting a slice of life in the style of flat realism.

In "A Craving for Innocence" a Frenchman, aspiring to escape the sordid materialism of civilization, goes to Tahiti. But when he discovers some unknown paintings of Gauguin, all his commercial lusts return, and he can think only of getting back to France to make a killing. On the way home he finds out that the paintings are fakes. Corruption has spread even into the South Seas, and he, the idealist in search of innocence, has been betrayed once again. Of course, he is both corrupt and preposterous; and most of M. Gary's characters combine these two qualities.

Elsewhere it is M. Gary himself who seems to be hissing at the world and its monstrosities….

In the grimmest of M. Gary's jokes, "The New Frontier," a crowd of people are awaiting the president's arrival for a speech. Slowly, bit by bit, we become aware that there is something different about these people. Survivors of an atomic war, they are undergoing mutations that are turning them into varieties of sea creatures…. After the president's stirring speech, they migrate into the water, from which life once arose, there to continue the resolute struggle against the Communists. Artistically, the story is not altogether successful, but no reader will be able to forget its point.

William Barrett, "Tall Tales," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1964, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 213, No. 4, April, 1964, p. 148.