WALTZ IN MARATHON by Charles Dickinson
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The title of Dickinson's sure-footed and quite impressive first novel has nothing to do (or so it seems at first) with an elegant session of endurance dancing: Harry Waltz is a widowered 61-year-old loan-shark in Marathon, Michigan, the town's richest man (growing richer now as he serves as an unofficial bank for the industrial area's hardluck cases); he's the father of two sons (one dead in Vietnam, the other a jailed loanshark/robber) and two beautiful, smart twin daughters; a twin himself, he comes from a bloodline stocked with twins and long-livers. Waltz's chief claim to distinction, however, isn't familial but individual--his absolute decorum in his work. ""I brought honor and gentlemanliness. . . and seemliness to loan sharking,"" says Waltz. True, he'll quickly grab away a refrigerator when a debt is overdue, his yard is filled with repossessed cars, and he lets his ""strings"" ever lengthen without a qualm. But he breaks no legs, is never violent--in contrast to son Eugene, working independently up in Flint. And if Waltz has a deep secret, it is that, after spying on Eugene in the act of robbery, the father moved to arrange his son's apprehension, conviction, imprisonment--leaving himself free enough of family-woe to fall in love: Waltz's paramour is 40-ish lawyer Mary Hale, level and witty and unshockable, who loves Waltz's special decency. (They make a spectacularly attractive couple, their scenes together sparkle.) So, when Waltz is moved-in on by a rival Flint shylock, Mary helps him to re-right himself. . . to remind himself who he is. This natty, intimate integrity of character is reminiscent of late Dashiell Hammett: these are people at the fringes of acceptance who accept themselves with grace, and thus are winners; in his obsession with longevity and twinship, Waltz sees everything in the world as part of a Tao-like balance, which allows him to glide through life with great Finesse despite the pain he receives and causes. And, despite some flaws (an overdone device or two, occasional filler), this is uncommonly satisfying fiction--with bright, intimately etched scenes, Dickinson's self-assured style (quiet, artful). . . and, above all, characters of quality and qualities.

Pub Date: Oct. 19th, 1983
Publisher: Knopf