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Charles Webb.

London (UK), Chatto & Windus, c1981.
238pp, cloth, $16.95.
ISBN 0-7011-2595-0.

Reviewed by Margaret MacLean.

Volume 10 Number 4.
1982 November.

A first novel, The Wilderness Effect, is described on the flyleaf as a story of two friends meeting accidentally at an old fishing hole five years after an idyllic holiday at the same lake. This time Errol Wolfe brings a wife of four years, and Scott Murray brings five years of failure and bitterness. The novel moves relentlessly to its "chilling climax."

The story is not merely about two estranged men who inadvertently meet at the same remote British Columbian lake. It is about three people, Scott, Errol, and Errol's wife, Gayle, aging adolescents all, who each has to confess privately that the flower-child syndrome of the 70s is a failed Utopian dream turned nightmare. (Dreams form a significant portion of the novel.)

The sad, malevolent Indian cripple establishes the background on which the three white Americans feed. Each fears Bearclaw, ne Jim McGee, but each finds that the real horror is in his or her own heart and mind. Evil is not out there in the wilderness but in the wilderness inside. Scott and Errol return to the remote lake to recapture the freedom (license?) of untamed nature. Scott fears the police, Errol fears losing Gayle, and Gayle fears getting old and being unwanted.

The pages bulge with scatological and orgasmic detail. The characters are exaggerated but believable, and the descriptions of the British Columbian interior are effective. The mood of the story is established early, but the story has trouble getting under way until the "chilling climax" is reached and then it hurries.

I don't know what the author intends with his conclusion. The survivor has had to kill to survive. It would appear that he will get away with his crime as far as the law and the courts are concerned. He may even survive psychologically as each new incident of "seeing" Bearclaw, who symbolizes eventually his own evil, is put to rest more effectively than the previous one. Perhaps, however, Charles Webb is issuing a warning to his North American contemporaries. We cannot do evil to the Earth or to each other without losing, and the greater the evil, the greater the loss.

A public library acquisition.

Margaret MacLean, Central T. S., Toronto, ON.
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