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Reviews 301 The Pleasure Garden. By Oakley Hall. (New York: The Viking Press, 1966. 377 pages, $6.50.) What, how, is it to be alive in this place, at this time? If he is serious, the novelist, whatever his means, implicitly addresses himself to this question. When he is technically inventive, like Faulkner or Hemingway, he may add a provocative new dimension to our experience of life. Even though no innovator, he may still, like Fitzgerald or Forster, give definition to a certain sense of life. Oakley Hall is more of an exploiter than an innovator; he occupies the territory (still speaking of technique) pioneered by others. Like Wright Morris, for example, he breaks his novel into chunks presented through successive intelligences, exploring the consciousness of a dozen or so char­ acters, bringing us into each person’s sensibility with the astonishing ease possible in modern fictional narration. And yet the pivotal figure of the novel is not one of these centers of narrative focus. We encounter him in the memories of the others; he himself has been dead for several years. Richard Macklin had learned, in the face of death on Guadalcanal, that life is contingent, and he translated his know­ ledge to mean that one must pass no pleasure by. The objective expression of his credo was the Ski Dancer resort, the pleasure garden of the title. His was the driving force, but all his associates who had helped build the resort shared in some way his felt response to life, and the mountain was its symbol. The mountain itself is a vital presence throughout the book. The in­ timacy each person feels with the mountain differs, but it is intense with many, negligible with few. The ritual of “skiing the deep powder”—the freshly fallen loose snow—provides an ecstatic communion intentionally likened (only by hints, but that is enough) to sexual consummation. It is the high point of living; the rest of life must be modeled, as far as each can manage it, to confirm and reflect that experience. As life at its intensest pitch, it makes those who know it immediately and vividly aware of death, its negation. For death, too, broods over the novel, both as memory of Dick Macklin’s extinction in a snowslide, and as imminent threat in the cancer that is de­ stroying his one-time mistress, Maeve Olsen, now at the end of a career as a jet-set beauty. In each character, living and dying (equally present, equally pervasive) struggle for dominance more intensively and overtly than in ordi­ nary experience, and while this is not wholly because of the mountain, the mountain comes to serve as symbolic locus for feelings about life and death. The idea is old, the embodiment wholly contemporary. The present time of the narrative covers only a few days during one Christmas season at Ski Dancer, and enough happens during that week to satisfy anyone’s desire for action; there is love-making, both passionate and casual, a splendid barroom brawl, a tense rescue on the ski slopes, a bone 302 Western American Literature shattering skiing mishap, an elopement of sorts, a seduction of sorts, and much more. But into the unfolding present is woven the relevant past, and the complex intermingling of past and present in the onging experience of each character makes for a peculiar mixture of stasis and movement that evokes a remarkable density of experience. We are mad to see every action in the present as outgrowth of much that has gone before to make these people what they are, most particularly the intimate entangling of their lives during the absorbing communal effort that had gone into building the pleasure garden. The plot is too complex for further summary to be fruitful. I must confess that, until I read this novel, I had never heard of Oakley Hall, even though he has four other published works to his credit. He is a Californian who has studied at the Iowa Writers Workshop; he must be added to the growing list of skilled writers who have studied their craft in that school. But more important, Mr. Hall has evidently gone to school...


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pp. 301-302
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