‘The Rightangled Creek’ by Christina Stead

I’ve written about this novella—subtitled as a sort of ghost storyelsewhere. But I can’t shake the fact of ‘The Rightangled Creek’ enough to leave it out. Sometimes I think of Christina Stead as George Eliot, but angry in a 20thCentury mode. Like Eliot, she throws out characters in droves, and yet the comparison is not right, somehow.

The Man Who Loved Children is both gateway and masterpiece, but there’s more to her work than this one book, not least this sixty-page novella of a country getaway for leftist intellectuals whose every plan and conceit will be knocked down in turn. We get the endless Stead torrent of people and talk and event giving way to event—in succession rather than in development. That last is perhaps Stead’s most unnerving commitment to true realism: things happen one after another with no sense of consequence or pattern or control. Out of the torrent, we pluck snatches of lives coming unglued: the leftist couple in rural retreat doing everything for their beloved child… who is a sort of Stalinist commissar and a terror to the locals. The ghosts of the house. The enthusiastic, back-to-the-earth twins who view poison ivy as a superstition. Stead never relents. That’s part of the marvel of her work and part of why—I think—it remains a lonely outpost.

In The Puzzleheaded Girl, Holt Rinehart Winston, 1967

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