THE ROSE FANCIER by Olga Masters


Email this review


 Seventeen stories from the late Australian Masters (The Home Girls, A Long Time Dying, etc.), varying in length and quality and ranging from the late 19th century to contemporary times. Before her death, Masters had finished eight; nine are the result of ``editorial alterations''--and it sometimes shows--but, even so, the most successful are biting studies of emotional and physical impoverishment. In the title story, sisters Petulia and Violet stay on into their 90s at their childhood home, their father's rose garden in ruins. The roses take on a symbolic, savage weight as flashbacks reveal a repressed and off-balance mother who foils one daughter's engagement. ``The Boy with Two Birthdays'' is a taut tale about Leo McGovern, whose parents change his birth date because a sister is born in the same year. When she dies, the parents ``were pleased they could now revert to Leo's proper age.'' Leo goes with his father to deliver a coffin and comes of age after his father breaks a leg. At her best, Masters allows indirect detail to reveal emotional hardship, as in ``Inseparable,'' in which a single mother is threatened by an only child's outside friendship. The proximity of the sea precisely reflects mood as the mother ``manages to keep even the smallest tremble of anger out of her voice.'' In ``Homesick,'' a young boy, sick at home, drags himself to school so as not to interfere with his mother's plans, though ``He often thought she [his teacher] looked directly at him...making him think he might be the cause of all the unhappiness in the world.'' Masters was adept at dramatizing a kind of helpless desperation through gritty, hardscrabble detail. Though not always fleshed out, and several attempts at humor fall flat, the finest pieces here are worthy companions to her earlier reputation-making collections.

Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 1991
ISBN: 0-393-03031-8
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1991