SAM CHARD by Don Bannister


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Sam Chard is a deceptive title for this unromanticized montage of scenes from life in a North-of-England mining town, circa 1938--because neither swaggering, womanizing collier Sam nor any of the other village characters here is developed with novelistic depth or pull. Instead, first-novelist Bannister slides from mine to pub to schoolrooms to bedrooms, in fragments of action that lean heavily on the rough and dark sides of village life: the dangerous, dank work in the mines (a cave-in, a fire); the advanced sex-play of adolescents (routine deflowerings plus an ugly attempt to rape a girl with a dog); a lecherous father's incestuous advances; bawdy story-swapping; repressive parents and teachers; and marital miseries. Bannister writes with a mean, raw naturalism--heavy on the local dialect; and a few of these scenes do make satisfying self-sufficient vignettes, especially one Hardy-esque moment when a mis-matched wife leaves town on a bus while Sam holds off her manic husband with a pick-axe. But most of the bits and pieces aren't vivid enough to compensate for the lack of a solid narrative--and Sam himself, who gets sacked from his job for standing up for workers' rights, plays out a mini-drama that is pure clich‚: he rolls in the hay with a lass of a slightly better class, and she hurts him by marrying a dull, unromantic, secure Establishment type. So these intermittently arresting backgrounds, lacking a worthy central focus, aren't quite enough to hold the interest--especially when nearly the same setting (seen somewhat less brutally) can be gotten in such full-blown novels as David Storey's splendid Saville (1977).

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1979
Publisher: Knopf