Filler content with an urban setting

Here’s a review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #35:-


Robert Freeman Wexler

PS Publishing pb, 94pp, £10

reviewed by Peter Tennant

Wexler’s work will be familiar to readers of TTA from his story ‘The Golden Legend’ in an earlier issue (aka the talking bread story), and this novella shares some of the quirky effects and off the wall humour that made that piece so special, though their use is not quite as effective.

Vaguely dissatisfied with his life, actor Richard Shelling buys a house in the idyllic rural community of Springdale, also the name of the town in a soap opera where he once had a walk on part as lawyer Patrick Travis. He is quietly amused when the locals call him Patrick and act as if he is somebody they know, but as the story continues a series of increasingly bizarre events lead him to the conclusion that something has gone seriously awry. In alternating short chapters we follow the story of the real Patrick Travis, also returned to Springdale to attend the wedding of old friends, but haunted by the memory of his past in the town and a failed marriage to which its people bore witness. His reality also crumbles, as the façade of Springdale is torn down and a deeper truth laid bare.

Like Gore Vidal’s Duluth though not as pointedly this novella blurs the boundaries between reality and the world of soap opera, which for so many can come to seem equally valid, but whereas Vidal’s novel was metaphysically slanted Wexler is more concerned to explore the inner lives of his characters, using the landscape as a tapestry on which their emotional crises can be played out, as each of them seeks a meaning beyond their own lives. For the length of the journey this is a sometimes fascinating and often surreal narrative, offering us complementary character studies, but with little attempt to fit these into any greater scheme of things, something that you or I would recognise as rationally grounded. Wexler’s writing is curiously detached, and there is no sense that we really get to know the characters, which possibly may be one of the points he is making, as at times they don’t seem to know themselves. He emphasises this through the novel trick of having sidebars which throw light on the text and impart to the reader information that may or may not be relevant.

This is an ambitious work given the novella length, and that perhaps is one of its shortcomings, in that the ideas explored here are only touched on and deserved investigation in much greater depth. The major problem for me though is that for all its perceived complexity in the end In Springdale Town is too easily reduced to one of SF’s oldest clichés, the man displaced in time who must never meet himself for fear of cataclysmic repercussions.

File under ambitious failure rather than qualified success.

In Springdale Town has an eye catching cover by Edward Miller and an introduction by Lucius Shepard.

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