CORAL BOATMEN by Elizabeth de Vegh


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De Vegh's last appearance here was in 1957, with a story collection called The Eye of the Beholder--and this agreeably plain novella, which reads much like an expanded short story, feels as if it too dates from that period. Harrington, an elderly Britisher (once vaguely important in government, now retired and not well-to-do), arrives on a Caribbean isle to spend the Christmas vacation at a hotel with relatives he hasn't seen in years: his onetime daughter-in-law Constance, long remarried (both of Harrington's sons seem to have died in WW II); Constance's American husband #2 and their two small daughters; and Haxrington's 19-year-old grandson Dick, Constance's son from her brief first marriage. So Harrington, who's been feeling old and useless, is suddenly awash in memories, reactions, and disturbing feelings. He's repelled by Constance's husband, a pushy businessman, and even more so by a Jewish-American tycoon whom they meet at dinner (a noisy caricature). He's faintly attracted to bosomy Constance. He's fascinated by an ancient coral-seller on a boat--who wears his age impassively imperiously. And, above all, he's briefly caught up in the problems of grandson Dick, who despises his stepfather (""he's one of Elliot's [sic] Hollow Men"") and wants to be an actor; Harrington, excited, nearly persuades Dick to transfer to an English university, to stay with his grandfather. Finally, however, after nearly being seduced by a Tennessee Williams-y matron, Dick decides to stay in America--and Harrington, wounded, must again force himself to accept solitude, to ""bless and let go."" A tiny chamber-drama, then, but narrated in a readably spare, quasi-British manner; and if many of the characters (especially young Dick) suffer from the general aura of datedness, the central sketch of late-middle-age is occasionally affecting.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1981
Publisher: Arrowhead Press (3005 Fulton, Berkeley CA 94705)