Engines Beneath Us

My review today of this TTA Novella…

By Malcolm Devlin

9E895FB1-86B7-4C2E-B7E9-36545792F663“We took care of the city, we took care of Mr Olhouser, and he took care of us.”

When I was a small boy in the 1950s, and often put to bed too early, I created in my mind or BY my mind a hub outside the working class house where we lived near the recreation ground or green, a hub in the pavement that reached beyond itself into a machine room below our terrace of houses from where I could control somehow the roots of my downtrodden background in what then seemed a communication with the rest of the world, where I seemed to work at these things, as perhaps this novella’s Mr Olhouser worked. I have since related my memory of that hub to the then future Internet. Now the memory has darker roots, those relating, in this novella itself, to when my own, as well as Rob’s, Dad’s “overalls smelt of iron and oil and earth.” So reading this just now has taught me a lot, as well as hinting to me why my story ‘A Halo of Drizzle Around an Orange Street Lamp’ in the Big-Headed People book was written, a story wherein a night picnic was arranged on the green whereon these houses bordered… and why the events of that night were later recorded in the Family Bible …But this novella varies it: “A circle of orange streetlights against a velvet blue black sky; the thin white halo which surrounded The Works. The street was still and Old Elsie had gone.” You will never forget Old Elsie, the bag lady, as described by this novella, as told by the story of Rob, as narrator, and of another boy who comes anew to the Crescent called Lee. And The Works as a sort of hub of the Crescent (part of today’s working class or gang-controlled streets), a hub for the city with machines throbbing below: The Works that are sometimes more like mining or hawling rocks, rocks grinding together. My Welsh forebears were coal hawlers and miners. Miners of mine. And the tunnel-back two up two downs or back lane houses, even semi-detached, reflecting each others’ interiors, housing insidious cultures that do more good than harm, I now hope. A culture like today’s coronavirus (that orange drizzle and halo mentioned above!) and we surely need Mr Olhouser’s ‘tonic’ (“clawing at my lungs, reaching deep inside of me.”) even more! Notwithstanding the teeming mice and their pink squirming young. Rob’s encounter with the true nature of the Works and wondering if he shall ever meet Lee again, as he now sometimes does or does not, in later life. Headstrong and crime-sneaky Lee, in those boyhood days, with his comic heroes and rumours of what he had once done to his Mam, Lee who then tempted more than he should have done vis à vis Mr Olhouser. Childhood seen from a distance, it says somewhere here. Even a taste for opera in the case of Rob’s Dad. Lee’s narration about following some strange antics by Old Elsie are melodramatic info-dumps of dialogue, but is he acting, speaking by rote, pretending, still tempting the untemptable? Slow and quick at once. The city that is older than the law, hawled by such Crescent forces. Fragments re-jigsawed from those lodged in deep memory. Someone elsewhere in this novella has a metaphor about jigsaws, that I cannot find now, but this ostensibly was beyond what such a humble working-class mind might have thought of. But it was part of the hawling beneath her feet, I guess, making such humility the greatest wisdom of all…the greatest gift of wisdom from among many such in this bespoke haunting novella. Bespoke for each reader. I have merely told you mine. My mother, too, when I was that child with whom I started this review … “She’d set a fresh glass of tonic on the cabinet. She told me I should stay in bed, and she reached across to feel my forehead, as though either of us believed I might have a temperature.”

“The day resumed as though it had stopped to watch me fooled.”

My previous reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/malcolm-devlin/

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