THE SPLENDID OUTCAST: Beryl Markham's African Stories by Beryl Markham

THE SPLENDID OUTCAST: Beryl Markham's African Stories

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The current revival-celebration of Beryl Markham and her life goes on, but the overall effect of these eight stories is to bring about an almost pitiable diminishment of the aura--at least the literary one--surrounding the famous flier, writer, and horsewoman. Written in the 1940's and first published in magazines like Collier's, Ladies' Home Journal, and The Saturday Evening Post, the pieces here on some occasions achieve the unpretentious strength and simple, dramatic elegance that readers of West with the Night will remember. The volume's very finest is its first--the childhood memory (and nothing further) of a fight-to-the-end between two favored horses (""Something I Remember""). Childhood memory again strengthens the best--and brilliant--moments of ""The Captain and His Horse,"" though the story thins toward the message-laden at end. Straining harder for their ideas, later stories decline toward O. Henry-esque formula, relying increasingly on suspense and twist endings (in the title story, a man and a horse are revealed to be similarly ostracized and proud; in ""Brothers Are the Same,"" two young Masai hunters, virulent enemies, become friends). ""Appointment in Khartoum,"" set during WW II (plucky American girl flies handsome British hero across the African desert), and ""Your Heart Will Tell You"" (gift flier bravely rescues lover on desert: ""She had always known, she thought now, that her heart would find its way to Michael"") descend to merely egregious and shamelessly potboiling levels of tin-ear Hollywood melodrama. ""The Transformation"" (about two men and one woman) is light but far more honestly done, though the book closes (""The Quitter"") with a double-twist-ending piece (about race-fixing, romance, and a courageous horse) positively hobbled by the sentimental, meretricious, and clichÉd. The volume has been compiled and annotated by Mary S. Lovell, Markham's biographer (Straight on Till Morning, p. 1048), who acknowledges that some of the pieces may have been ghostwritten by Beryl Markham's third husband, and that ""others are of less interest as literature than for their historical background. . ."" Such qualifications aside, it seems as much travesty as homage to bring the poorest of these desperate pieces back into print, as if squeezing out one more thin title while the rush is on.

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1987
Publisher: North Point