Wally's World

Wally

By Phil Hawes

A review of Wally by Greg Kramer

Published on October 1, 2004

Wally
Greg Kramer

Cormorant Books
$22.95
paper
292pp
1-896332-19-6

Wally offers a psychological portrait of a tempestuous Welsh theatre prop maker. Wally Greene’s paradoxical mixture of animosity and desire for his “pseudo-sister” Peggy McLean suggests something more than a simple clash of personalities. Their antagonism begins in rural Wales, when the Greenes take in Peggy and her two brothers as Blitz refugees. The three Londoners sting Wally with their upper-middle-class officiousness, rudely awakening him to the idea of class differences. This is a character drama written in a realist manner with an anti-hero who fails to win this reader’s sympathy.

About halfway through the book, Wally rapes Peggy beneath the Whitehall Theatre stage with the encouragement of his manager and fellow gaffers. Although this event is minimized in a fragmentary narrative that shifts in time and place, it is undoubtedly the key scene in the novel, marking Wally’s turning point from a somewhat likeable curmudgeon into a fully-fledged sociopath.

A problematic aspect of the rape scene is the suppression of the woman’s perspective. Since the character of Peggy has not been developed – she is not defined beyond an ideal type of the upper middle class, the reader is not invited to sympathize with the victim. Peggy represents everything that Wally despises in the bourgeoisie. Unfortunately, class differences are baldly stated, but never fleshed out. Kramer’s shorthand scarcely sketches the social milieu. For example, at Wally’s school in Abergwaun, the one teacher of narrative importance, Mr Maddox, is described as “a steaming red-faced brute from Liverpool who never passed up the opportunity to flout his English superiority over the Welsh natives.” The reader has no idea of how this abstract notion of national favouritism manifests itself.

In addition, there are very few descriptive passages to make the landscape of Wales or any other social setting come alive. When Wally visits his grandparents in Dinbych-y-psygod, there are no particulars of the village apart from “a curved narrow street, where the slate-roofed houses were built right up to the road, with one strip of brick pavement.”

The rape, it seems, is Wally’s way of seizing power from a world that excludes him. But the superficial treatment of class in the novel does not generate the pathos that Kramer presumably intends. During the rape at knifepoint, it is noted of Wally: “This was the moment. He would take it and treasure it for always.” Because the narrative pressure is to identify with the perpetrator, a quandary is created for the ethical reader.

There are other problems too. Kramer exhibits a dubious taste in poetic language and hyperbole. For example, this moment from the aforementioned rape:

There in the midst of the storm, came a silver moment of indescribable beauty, where time slowed, stopped. A beryl lotus bloomed a thousand petals. A distant lilt of a flute. Seed fell. One moment of bliss. Then gone.

This seed becomes a symbol. It reappears in the final passage of the novel when Wally’s mental breakdown transforms him into a cosmic spermatozoon:

 

Like a flaming arrow rushing to the bull, Wally Greene cuts the surface of the water at the very centre of the flower, the core of the spark, the wink of the Cyclops’ eye. The lotus bloom. A seed, a burning acorn, falling down, down, down into the well.

 

Such symbolism does not elucidate the author’s intentions for this novel. One questions whether he manifests a real interest in exploring class conflict or whether he simply uses it as an excuse to develop sordid scenarios. mRb

Phil Hawes works for the Centre for Digital Art. His short script "Somnopolis" was recently published in nor: ideas of north.

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