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The Dry Well
By Dawn Lyons

Review by: Zénó Vernyik

  1/1/04

ISBN: 0972555803

Dawn Lyons’ The Dry Well could have no better introduction than its own first two sentences. Tough job it may be for a story – or rather any text – to begin, to give ample impetus, to provide the context and the engulfing atmosphere, but the present work is masterful in that respect:

Before a storm there’s usually a sign – a slight dip in temperature, a gulf breeze stirring up thirsty soil or tacky air, but not always and especially not in Florida. It’s only in hindsight clues are illuminated, collected, examined, and filed away under lessons learned. (7)

Not only are the above two sentences interesting, thoughtful and well-written, but also provide what – for me, at least – is one of the main points communicated by this text: one can never foretell the future, not even the seconds immediately and directly to follow. A whole life can be shattered, altered radically without any warning in advance.

At first sight, The Dry Well is a rape story. This is a perfectly justifiable subject in itself, however, closer scrutiny reveals much more than that. What the eager reader can find if she is willing to, are amongst others the following: homosexual life in general, the problems of raising one’s child up as a single parent, being a homosexual parent. Furthermore, it deals in a clever way with the theme of the power (or powerlessness) of human relationships, while it actively and creatively works against such all too powerful myths as compulsory heterosexuality, the homo/hetero dichotomy or heterosexual marriage. It is quite fascinating to see how wonderfully this text shows that loving someone “Truly Madly Deeply” and living one’s life in harmony with a partner are – or at least may be – two different things. It is wise and daring enough to question the long held false truth that “love and marriage / go together like a horse and carriage.”

As for the structure and the techniques: the text implies a third person narration, but its focus is never that of an omniscient implied author or third party. The narrator’s knowledge is always limited to that of the portrayed character. This fits well in the texture of the text because the novel’s narration does not really involve a justifiably separate narrator at all. Rather, the whole text is a chain of continuously shifting positions of narrators, each and every time the predominant character being the narrator – the third person form is just an outward criterion, a distancing step, or perhaps a mere formality. The largest part of the novel is made up of interior monologues, conveying states of mind, emotions and attitudes. When there is interaction, it also filtered through the mental set of a given character.

The novel’s prose is vivid and pictorial, once impressionist, then expressionist, sometimes even bordering on the surreal. What gives its endearing charm and captivating power is right this special, picturesque tone, besides its uncompromising honesty. These qualities make The Dry Well worthy of general interest, even of appraisal. However, it has its weak points, too. That this special way of conveying a pictorial and subjective universe veils some lack in form and in structure, in crafts(wo)manship is not that terrible at all. It does not even turn out to be so at first sight. However, the myriad of mistakes in spelling or punctuation and even a handful of severe errors in grammar that were left in the published version are clearly disappointing. It is a shame that there had been no time or energy for a really thorough check before the book went to print. In the age of spell checkers it is even more embarrassing: were it for a large publishing house to issue this book, this would even be a sin to be so negligent. But what one faces here is nothing, but another sad effect of the fact that first-time authors cannot have the luxury of an editor being in charge of their book. As a matter of fact, the publisher, Accolade Books is Dawn Lyons’ own “company,” probably consisting only of one person, herself.

All in all, this book is really full of hopes. Some more work on the technical, professional side of writing, together with the elimination of the said grammatical mistakes might mean something terrific next time. With this originality of style and with this pictorial subjectivity, the next Lyons book might easily turn out to be a masterpiece comparable only to the best ones.

Bibliography

 

Lyons, Dawn. The Dry Well. Niceville, Florida: Accolade Books, 2002.

Cahn, Sammy and Jimmy Van Heusen. “Love and Marriage.” n.p.: Barton Music and Cahn Music, 1955.

 




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