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Marshall, Tom.

Ottawa, Oberon Press, c1985. 129pp, paper, ISBN 0-88750-594-7 (cloth) $23.95, 0-88750-594-5 (paper) $12.95.

Reviewed by Chris Kempling

Volume 14 Number 1
1986 January

Glass Houses is a collection of five of Tom Marshall's short stories. The first and last stories of the collection are well done, but the others have a rather flat quality to them: passable, but with no zing. "The Story of T." recounts the love/hate relationship between a property-conscious professor and his four-year-old juvenile delinquent neighbour, T.T. delights in offending Professor T.'s proprietary dignity with persistent trespasses, front lawn excavations, and glass-shattering missiles. Marshall's use of the same initial for his two characters makes "The Story of T." more than just an interesting story. With this conceit, the author conveys a mirrored image of the same person, separated by time; the aging proper householder looking on with mixed annoyance and pleasure at his own unruly childhood. One of Marshall's interesting gambits is the inclusion of two tragic endings for his characters in the midst of the story. He toys with their fates, then rejects the violent endings as too maudlin. It is unusual to see an author's revisions in the text, but Marshall handles it well.

"The Man who loved Elizabeth Taylor" and "Strawberry Fields: Robert and Nancy" are rather forgettable pieces. The characters get drunk a lot, act neurotically, and perform poorly in relationships. When a character dies tragically, it evokes relief rather than sorrow. It means the story ends soon. "The Revenge of Rosemary Goal" and "Barbara and Harold on the Island: An Idyll" are like chapters from the same novel. Much information on the way characters behave in the latter story is in the former story. The central character, Harold Brunt, is an ex-professor of English, eking out a sort of living writing novels, drinking to excess, and performing poorly in relationships. The character is reminiscent of Dubin in Bernard Malamud's Dubin 's Lives.

"Barbara and Harold" is the best story of the collection. There is good character development and some very convincing first-person narratives. The ending has a Keystone Kop tone to it, but after a whole volume of dreary characters living tired maladapted lives, the comic relief is refreshing.

Glass Houses is an apt title for the volume. So many of Marshall's characters live fragile, vulnerable lives, reeling between mediocrity and inadequacy. Although no one seems really shattered, they are chipped and cracked, teetering on the edge of a long fall into disintegration. My basic feeling is that Marshall needs more space to develop his characters. I look forward to a Harold Brunt novel.

Chris Kempling, Quesnel, B.C.
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