By Peter Cameron
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Coral Glynn is a post-war novel in which even the characters without literal battle scars are veterans of a harsh and traumatic world.
While 1950s England was in many respects a time of optimistic rebuilding, the somber tone here is one of scarcely endured survival. Once-grand estates decay and fall into disrepair, and the hearth fires that provide the characters’ sole source of warmth are perpetually on the verge of going out. When an old woman dies, her crippled veteran son seems to hardly care or notice except for what it could mean with his relationship to Coral, who briefly served as his mother’s live-in nurse and is as fragile as her name implies.
Many complications compound themselves across the trim Coral Glynn, all illustrating people so wounded by their pasts that they run from the slightest obstacle; even a dress that requires help to lace up is returned after defeating its wearer. A sudden crime makes a fugitive out of someone with no reason to be one, and the prejudices of the era prevent a touching love between two men from becoming anything more than acknowledged and mourned.
Despite his clean and elegant prose, Coral is a minor work for Peter Cameron, a pure New York writer who may be more comfortable in his native setting, and whose Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You effortlessly displayed a psychological complexity lacking here. One yearns for the major emotional undercurrents to be delved into instead of more or less skipped over. But as the book goes on this seems less a flaw than a theme: for these characters, any greater scrutiny of their lives would surely destroy them.