PRIDE by William Wharton


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The same structural shakiness that undermined A Midnight Clear and Scumbler affects this new Wharton effort: an overwhelming metaphor soaks through the otherwise crisp-enough narrative, making it soggy (here it's actually a double story, joined) and, worse, utterly pre-ordained. Wharton's a good enough novelist to keep you hoping this wet and shaggy theme will stand, shake itself off, and surprise you--yet it doesn't happen. The two complementary plots? In the summer of 1938, a Philadelphia factory worker, getting too much heat because of his union activities, spirits his young family off to Wildwood, New Jersey, for an unscheduled vacation (the kids have been threatened by company goons). Appearing on the boardwalk that summer is a motorcycle/animal act owned by a WW I hero, an ex-car-racer named Sture Modig. "The Wall of Death" features a wooden ramp/pit, whirling cycles (ridden by Sture and a younger man--who also is sleeping with Sture's wife) and Tuffy, who rides in a sidecar and is a lion that Sture has had since it was a cub. How the narrator of half the book, Dickie Kettleson, son of the factory worker, finally has a fateful hand in the (disastrous) freeing of Tuffy is the eventual braid here. But you've seen it coming from the beginning, is the problem: the title has given it all away, even: Pride--pride of lions, pride of family, of work, of protectiveness, of bravery. Wharton does try to shadow it a little, with the eerily effective sub-metaphors he's so good at, usually interiors of different kinds: the Wall of Death, sand castles on the beach, the box Dickie keeps his kitten in (who's a minor Tuffy, all too obviously)--but the main man/lion contrast rolls ponderously over all that (Wharton even interweaves a chapter on the behavior of lions in the wild--in case someone's been napping). The inertness of the theme will in the end completely stave in the book, allowing it little of Birdy's or Dad's plain mysteriousness. Still and all, Wharton remains the contemporary novelist perhaps closest to what could be called Frank Capra-style American storytelling: class-conscious, do-an-honest-job, optimistic, loving. Pride, like all his other books, is imbued by these merits--and is scuttled only by its urge to italicize it all unnecessarily.
Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1985
ISBN: 1557042594
Page count: 308pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1985


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