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MURPHY'S ROMANCE by Max Schott Kirkus Star



Pub Date: Feb. 6th, 1979
Publisher: Harper & Row

Two short stories, previously published in Schott's recent collection, Up Where I Used to Live, sit like hearths in the midst of this novel; but Schott, like his Western contemporary characters, is sly and laconic enough to have built a cozy, just-the-right-size house around them that can be properly heated and lit--low flames and shadows being the essence of his art. Murphy Jones, a widower in his fifties from the deserted southeast part of Oregon, moves to the California desert and buys a stock auctionyard. He thus comes in close proximity to Toni Wilson--a lady horse trainer, 40, attractive, independent, and interested in Murphy solely as a friend; she's had plenty of husbands and lovers. So Murphy marries her aunt, Margaret, and is happy and concerned and playful with Toni thereafter; but he's still pretty regularly in the middle of her personal life, where it makes him sick to be. (But he's even sicker when he stays away.) He and Margaret help Toni to deflect one old suitor, Wendell, only to urge her to reconcile with another, Ben (whom she marries--and Murphy wishes he weren't quite so helpful). Everything is very simple on the surface, as Schott's style moseys along, clipped and relaxed and coin-true in dialogue. At the end of the book, though, you realize you've had a massive dose of subtle, touching, nearly Chekhovian psychology--and the effect is exalting. Because the aim is set so knee-level, affectationless, it takes a moment to see that Murphy's unrequited love is monstrous--and that Toni's known it all along. The little cautionary, awshucks stories that Murphy tells Toni's suitors exactly match the power of Schott's while-no-one's-looking talent for parable, the economy of poetry wearing the plain hat of gossip. Just a chip, then, this little book--but of gold all the way through.