by David Kosub
IT`S NOT UNUSUAL for writers of fiction to become more enamoured of landscapes and the objects surrounding their characters than the characters themselves. Some of Roger Burford Mason`s best writing in Telling the Bees (Hounslow, 160 pages, $14.95 paper) is precisely of this sort: thunderstorms and exotic foreign marketplaces, fine furniture and Meissen china, a printer`s sample book, old theatre programs, and the bindings of first edition "classics." We never really get close to the aging Joanna Barclay in "An Actress" or Ivor Turpin in "At the Rialto" because Burford Mason draws our attention away from them to objects that are somehow meant to represent or contain their lives.
But the fault does not lie entirely with the author. Leaving aside the enormous disservice accorded Burford Mason`s book by the proofreader (assuming one was assigned), questions might be asked of the editor (unaccountably cited in the preface for "painstaking and patient work"). Some of the writing is so repetitious, several stories so pointlessly or insufficiently developed, that the reader has to ask why the editor never draped a friendly arm about the author`s shoulders and sent him back to the writing table.
The answer may lie in Burford Mason`s unquestionable talent as a descriptive writer and his accessible, leisurely writing style. These alone might have been enough to justify a 400-page novel but not, I think, a collection of short stories, where the usual aim is to provide a condensed, incisive view of life lived below the surface of everyday reality.