MY UNCLE SILAS by H. E. Bates

MY UNCLE SILAS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Published in England in 1939, but never before in the US, these 14 small tales offer sly, affectionate glimpses of the narrator's great-uncle Silas--a rural oldster of the earthy, boozy, incorrigible school. ""In a voice at once dreamy, devilish, innocent, mysterious and triumphant,"" 93-year-old Silas recalls his more youthful days of poaching and wooing. In ""The Revelation,"" the narrator watches old Silas being given a bath by his surly, longtime housekeeper--and realizes for the first time that their relationship is (or at least Once was) intensely romantic. Elsewhere, Silas chortles over tall-tales of his Casanova days, trying to out-lie his dandyish, equally ancient brother-in-law Cosmo. (In one anecdote, Silas hides from a jealous husband in a cellar for days, eating ""stewed nails"" to keep from starving to death.) There are nostalgic vignettes of roof-thatching, pig-wrestling, and grave-digging--plus, in ""A Happy Man,"" a somewhat more serious sketch of Silas' old chum Walter, an outwardly cheerful ex-soldier who eventually succumbs (with traumatic memories of 1880s Asian campaigns) to madness. And, inevitably, ""The Death of Uncle Silas"" arrives at the close--though, even on his deathbed, Silas is sneaking snorts of wine . . . while, in an epilogue, the narrator shows that he's inherited a wee bit of his great-uncle's mischief. Modestly amusing, with lyrical/wistful touches to soften the near-buffoonery: minor but attractive work from novelist/storyteller Bates (19051974), best known in recent years as the source of the PBS series ""Love for Lydia.

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 1984
Publisher: Graywolf