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Pub Date: March 10th, 1992
Publisher: Persea

Guyana, that Caribbean-oriented, erstwhile British colony in South America, is the setting for this short psychological study of repression: published in England to some acclaim in 1978, but the first US publication for this Guyanese-born, London-based author. Selwyn and Gallon Flood could not be more different: Where older brother Selwyn, Gallon's idol, is cheerful and outgoing, Galton himself is fearful and undemonstrative, prone to ""fantasies of self-abasement"" and, in response to humiliation by his mother, a fanatical believer in male rights and ""the complete subservience of the woman."" All this comes in a neat little package in the opening chapter; what follows is Galton acting out his fears and fantasies. Orphaned at 19, Galton leaves the family home in Georgetown (the capital) for a much smaller town. He is attracted to Gemma, the daughter of the owner of his lodging house, but suspecting a marriage-trap, he moves again, deep into the bush. Eventually returning to Georgetown, where Selwyn is already a husband and father, Galton sends for Gemma; their wedding is somber, and their sex life (because of Galton's hang-ups) awkward. Working his way down, Galton becomes a watchman at a sawmill, and drags the long-suffering Gemma into a stinking tenement. When she asserts herself, he knocks her unconscious and throws her into the river, ""whereupon all the repressed rage of his boyhood came flooding out."" The murder has no judicial consequences (Gemma's father will not go to the police), but it hastens Gallon's descent into isolation and madness. A large cast, encompassing both Georgetown's precarious bourgeoisie and its slum dwellers, supplies a jabber of different voices and occasional vitality to Heath's essentially lifeless story--lifeless because Galton never makes the leap from case-history to flesh-and-blood individual.