BOOK REVIEW / Down in Ambridge, USA: The village by David Mamet, Faber pounds 14.99

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THE blurb announces that this 'stunning first novel by one of America's greatest playwrights' brings to life 'a remote New England community full of dark undercurrents and brooding silences'. But a couple of chapters are enough to convince you that David Mamet's The Village is more a case of Twin Troughs than Twin Peaks.

Interweaving dialogue recorded with fusspot phonetic accuracy (' 'Y'ain't got it chure place . . . Well, I'mnn know . . .' Gary said. 'I. Don't. Know.' '), interior monologue conveyed as clunky, down-home direct speech (' 'Hell, f'I didn't have a compass I could wait till night and see the dipper,' he thought') and passages of almost fetishistically loving observation of traditional activities such as sawing wood or tracking deer, the novel keeps tabs on several members of this community through a year in its life.

These range from Dick, the proprietor of the village hardware store, who is slowly drowning in debt, to Lynn, an old hunter with a bone-deep knowledge of the forests; from a newcomer who, as his marriage disintegrates, keeps himself together by chopping firewood, to Maris, the promiscuous and savagely unhappy local head-

turner. Each is so under-characterised, though, that, as the book hops from one story to another, it's often a struggle to work out exactly who is now in focus, particularly given Mamet's penchant here for personal pronouns rather than names.

The cross-cutting, the assembling of highly charged particulars (like the 1946 fishing patch one of the characters picks up at a sale) give the novel a cryptic air, as though it were building up, clue by clue, to a violent climax. Yet there's a studied inconsequentiality to the narration, a shaggy-dog refusal to make it all add up. In The Village, the macho, hunting, Hemingwayesque side of Mamet (the side that could write, without irony, in a hymn to all-male society in Playboy, that 'The day's shooting was about things being beautiful') predominates over the quick-witted Aristotelian/ rabbinical side of him, which performs the high-precision structuring of those foul- mouthed, violently disputatious plays like Glengarry Glen Ross and Oleanna and which composes the best of the essays. The Village, by contrast, is the sort of book where man can't even light a fire out in the open without thinking that 'This is the origin of prayer'.

There's a lot of reverence, in these pages, for the instinctual. 'Animals do not think, and lead their lives from one beautiful moment to the next,' reflects one of the male characters. Paradoxically, it's when he's describing minds emptied of thought that Mamet's own mind reaches for the nicest intellectual distinctions: when a character has just seen, or had a vision of, a mountain lion: 'For a while he had no thoughts at all, like a man for a brief while after great danger, or orgasm; a relief, rather than a feeling of relief.'

This reviewer often found it hard to keep a straight face. When, for example, Marty recalls his father telling him that 'you had to be like (the forest) if you wanted to be part of it', there's a strong temptation to chip back with 'dense, wooden and rooted to the spot?' Perhaps not surprisingly, Mamet includes a moment of jokey defensiveness about women's attitudes to all this hairy-chested male bonding, through the State Trooper's story of how he tried to give the brush- off to a mistress by telling her he was going hunting for the weekend instead of back to his family. She foils his plot, though, by sweetly refusing

to take the standard hunters-doubt-their-own-

masculinity line. Making his mistress a present of The Village would, you feel, be a more effective way to engineer a bust-up.