A PRODIGAL CHILD by David Storey


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Again, as in his masterpiece, Saville (1977), Storey quietly follows the growth of a Thirties/Forties lad in the North-of-England from humble origins to the ambivalent glimmers of Something Better--but, though much of this new novel is vivid and honest, it lacks its predecessor's scope, shape, and intensity. The prodigal child this rime is Bryan Morley, second son of farmer's-hand Arthur and prim wife Sarah--who, in the novel's powerful opening chapters, move into their first actual house, squabble relentlessly (his drinking and lack of ambition, her penny-pinching), jealously vie for the allegiance of baby sons Alan and Bryan. But, while the parents in Saville fairly ached for the social progress of their brightest son, the Morleys display mixed feelings when Bryan shows signs of wanting, and getting, something ""special"" out of life: he becomes a favorite playmate of Margaret, the farmer-boss' independent, philosophical daughter; she invites him to the cinema and tea, while Bryan's mum worries (""We can't keep up with people like that""). Then adolescent Bryan catches the maternal/ sexual eye of Margaret's town-dwelling, childless Aunt Fay Corrigan--who, with her furniture-shop-owner husband, proceeds to more-or-less adopt him: she gives him a paint-set, invites him to tea. . . and, when Bryan shows signs of artistic talent, arranges for him to go to prep school in town while living (during the week) at the posh Corrigan home. Yet Bryan's move to better-class surroundings is only a half-triumph: he feels the growing distance from his parents (he's embarrassed by his mother's tattiness in public), from brother Alan (a laconic, envious sort with boxing aspirations). And his growing erotic obsession with Aunt Fay leads to both consummation and near-suicidal disillusionment--as Bryan reaLizes (through an ugly scene or two) that she has a promiscuous past and present, that his role in the Corrigan household (which in some ways parallels his parents') has been a creepily perverse one. Nearly every conflict here is dramatized more expansively, with sharper specifics, in Saville. Bryan--especially in the unsatisfying closing chapters--is too shadowy a presence. But Storey remains an impressive chronicler of working people, class distinctions, and adolescent yearnings--making this a worthy, if flawed, follow-up in the plain-epic Saville tradition.

Pub Date: March 28th, 1983
Publisher: Dutton