THE WAIT, Frank Turner Hollon abandons all glossy writing,
extraneous poetics, rough-and-tumble grittiness and sly minimalism.
He is solely interested in relating bare honesty to his readers ---
to show what an honest account of a man’s life must consist
of. His answer, as suggested by the title, isn’t the large
events that string the “plots” of our lives together
--- it’s the moments in between, where we digest what has
happened, how we should consider ourselves in light of our actions,
and how we cope with being changed and unchanged.
James Early Winwood’s narrative is a confession of sorts, but
not told for any need to get a burden off his chest. Placidly, his
life is revealed to us in four parts: his teenage years and college
experience, young adulthood, middle age, and growing old. Each part
consists of relating a series of plot points and pondering their
depth: “There is so much to notice if you know what to look
for. So much to be aware of around you.” He attempts to make
this point very early on, to make his project clear for the rest of
the novel. His discussion of fishing --- where he claims that
rather than catching a fish, “the importance seemed to lie in
the silence” --- doesn’t leave much to the
Probably Hollon’s most remarkable way of achieving this
so-called narrative of silence is through his descriptions via
negation. To convey the power of emotions, he describes their
indescribability; instead of facing up to the truth or to
awkwardness, his characters blurt out statements, the banality of
which exposes the depth of their feelings. Other times their
silence speaks more than their dialogue. While it could be argued
that this is just a cop-out way of generating emotional intensity
with little real work --- and sometimes it feels that way --- it
also does a wonderful job at pulling the double duty of conveying
the theme while also painting an emotional portrait.
That being said, the novel is fraught with several flaws. While the
story progresses naturally, the way it is told (plot and
intermission, repeat) is tiresome and uninventive. It also appears
to question the very premise of the work, which seems like it ought
to be dedicated to a microscopic analysis of tiny, insignificant
moments. Instead, the plot-based narrative tells a story with much
less rumination than would be expected. And while we get fairly
good insight into Winwood’s psychology, the reader may be
left wanting more.
The impact of these issues will ultimately be decided by the
reader’s tolerance for slow pacing and repetitive
storytelling, especially if one is willing to sort out the gems of
concise, powerful prose that are scattered throughout the novel.
But a more fundamental problem is its uninventiveness. Thornton
Wilder covered much of this topic 80 years ago with OUR TOWN, and
THE WAIT contributes little new material to the subject. It’s
primarily concerned with stating its point --- again, with utmost
honesty --- but little else.
Nevertheless, if the reader is willing to look past all this, he
should prepare to meet Early Winwood, shake his hand, and cheer and
mourn his triumphs and mistakes.
Reviewed by Max Falkowitz on January 24, 2011