William Mayne Paul Heins - Essay

Paul Heins

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Although he lacks the emotional intensity of [Alan] Garner, Mayne does have a sense of story; and despite his willfully oblique manner of style and method, he can convey the significance of events in such books as Earthfasts, Ravensgill, and A Game of Dark…. But although he displays in The Jersey Shore his flair for catching colloquial characteristics of speech and idiosyncrasies of character, he suggests a situation without developing it and tells a mere wisp of a story….

Until the epilogue, the narrative is singularly tepid and lacking in the kind of motivation that makes for storytelling. And there is little suspense, though much covert humor, in the detailing of casual events of everyday life. The setting only hazily hints at the New Jersey shore. What is remarkable about the book, however, is its ending—or rather its two endings, that of the original English edition and that of the American edition.

At the end of the English edition, the reader learns that Arthur is black, that his grandmother "had been born a slave"; and for once, the story is given an unexpected strength—both emotional and romantic—when Arthur is reunited with the English branch of his family. In retrospect, one realizes that Mayne does give fleeting indications of the race of the protagonist. His ancestor was a man who "came from the sea…. dragging a chain." One member of grandfather's English family states "'We abide here, and folk bear with us, but we don't belong and look different, so dark we are.'"

The conclusion of the American edition ignores the fact that Arthur is black; but black he must be if Mayne's hints throughout the story are to have any meaning. In the American ending, Arthur's visit to Osney, his grandfather's original home, becomes a mere act of filial piety and destroys whatever emotional impact the book may have. (p. 581)

Paul Heins, in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1973 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), December, 1973.