New Writing In Various Forms, edited by Michael Blackburn

The Review is now on permanent sabbatical.

Many thanks to those who contributed.

The rest, as the man said, is silence.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

None Of The Cadillacs Was Pink, William Bedford; Review by Wayne Dean-Richards.

I’d never heard of William Bedford before picking up None of the Cadillacs was Pink. So when I opened this Solidus Press collection of stories and essays I came to it clean. I mean it wasn’t like reviewing a collection of new Salinger stories: I mention Salinger because I recently read nine of his old stories and it struck me that to review anything new by him would be difficult because of the weight of expectation.

'Amusements' opens up None of the Cadillacs was Pink and it is apparent when Bedford writes of ‘A pig...discovered, floating in the middle of a field on a settee’ that he has a poet’s eye for telling detail, but also a story writer’s knack for inference: so that when Danny plays Doris Day’s 'Secret Love' it’s not necessary to say more, and an essayist’s ability to write of the particular whilst with references to Frankie Lane, Alma Cogan, Norman Mailer and Elvis effortlessly embroiling the reader in a world that is universal. That it seems effortless is, of course, a testimony to Bedford’s skill as a writer.

'The Painter’s Daughter', the opening story, employs an unadorned style to tell of working-class bravery and pride with a character who: ‘yellowed the steps with a scouring stone as often as possible.’ In 'Afternoons' the sexual tension between Catherine and her husband is symbolic of the tension between the old England - of people who when their tea was too hot readily ‘cooled some in their saucer’ - and the restlessness of the England at the dawn of the rock’n’roll age, this perhaps epitomised by the uncertainty evident in Catherine’s whispered: ‘I don’t know.’

Many of the stories are about transition and often there’s a rock ‘ n’ roll undercurrent to the change, as in 'Orchards' when after ‘she lounged round the garden wearing tight jeans and an old blouse’ she ‘went off with another man, taking all Lowther’s money from the post office and leaving the back door wide open in her hurry.’ These days I find mention of money in the post office nostalgic. There’s a lot in this book that I find nostalgic, yet it never seeks refuge in a comforting but ultimately pointless nostalgia, rather it’s the case that time and again everyday lives are tellingly scrutinised and as part of that process a still recognisable past is sometimes beautifully sometimes brutally evoked.

Interestingly, despite both the presence of rock ‘n’ roll and a funfair none of the stories is loud or flashy. Instead these we’re given stories of people living quiet lives. 'Touch', for example, details the unremarkable end of a working man, the ordinariness what makes it so remarkable: that and the realisation that it’s not only the death of a working man we’re party to, but the death of a whole way of life, the two rendered without pretension.

Of the fifteen stories my favourite is 'Wildlife', in which artist Frances rejects both her husband and the city in order to return to the sea and paint, the sea an integral feature of many of the pieces. What I especially like about the story, with Frances’ insistence that she doesn’t ‘know what the images mean’ is the feeling that here Bedford was working as Cheever said he did: ‘with intuition, apprehension dreams, concepts’ under which circumstances: ‘Characters and events come simultaneously’. The story has depth and resonance but there’s nothing forced or strained about it. That autobiographical essays frame this collection I took as a clear invitation to read autobiographical aspects into many of the stories and that was no bad thing. 'Wildlife' has the ring of truth to it; in fact all of the stories felt so authentic choosing a favourite wasn’t easy.

The final essay, which gives the collection its title, is packed with emotions and images. In many of the celebrity autobiographies cluttering bookshops the incidents rendered in the twenty-five pages of this essay would have been gratingly padded to ten times that length, but Bedford opts for incisiveness and the result is impressive: None of the Cadillacs was Pink is a tight and beautifully constrained piece of writing.

Bedford’s new collection is a rewarding read. The writing has a clarity resulting from the omission of the superfluous and the feeling that these stories and essays belong together. Before reading Cadillacs I hadn’t heard of William Bedford. Since reading it I’m certain that when I come across anything else by him I’ll check it out.

None of the Cadillacs Was Pink by William Bedford is published by Solidus.

No comments: