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THE INCLINE by William Mayne



Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1972
Publisher: Dutton

The incline is a small railway that carries wagons up to and down from an early 20th-century quarry town's main industry, and the public events that are filtered here through the expanding consciousness of young Mason Ross center on the declining fortunes of Jedediah Spitalhouse, the quarry's self-made owner, by whose sole actions the town is plunged into and then rescued from economic depression. As usual Mayne has created a solidly organic setting and society, where everyone depends on the Spitalhouse fortune and where Mason Ross upon leaving school is privileged to clerk in Jedediah's bank. As usual too Mayne's ability to get inside the head of his oddly undemonstrative adolescent hero allows us to share the confusion of Mason's new job, the perplexities of his first love (for Moira, Jedediah's carefully reared daughter), and his dismay in witnessing his father's ostracism as Spitalhouse publicly blames his financial blunders on Ross. There is even one of Mayne's incongruous, mystical scenes when Mason and Moira, who are running away from their fighting fathers, wake up in a sheep-fold on beds of fleece and view the meaning of existence in a visually disoriented moment. But all Mayne's skill and effort seems misplaced when we come to the ending: after Lothro, Mason's slightly retched senior at the bank, dies blowing up the Spitalhouse home so the owner can collect the insurance, Jedediah himself, bankrupt, acknowledges his responsibility for the quarry's decline, turns the business over to a corporation, and queues up with the other men on reopening day to sign on for work. There is a sort of stodgy humor about his willing comedown, and Mayne's oddly effective prose and sure narrative sense carry off the Lothro episode, but it's a disappointingly expedient resolution. The novel on balance is neither as dark and demanding as Mayne's best work nor as insubstantial as Royal Harry (p. 193, J-55) but falls somewhere between in both mood and strength. In the end its the period setting and the traditional nature of Mason's concerns that one remembers.