A few years ago I picked up a used paperback for a dollar. The book was “The Drowning People” and was written by Richard Mason. It was a gothic tale by this young Englishman who had yet to graduate from university. I remember the pang of envy that ran through me as I read his biography and of the book’s success. On the jacket there was a pre-announcement about an upcoming film based on the work. At that time, I’d published a few short stories and was in my 60s. I don’t apologize for envying him. Who wouldn’t? He came from a privileged background, had a successful first book with a potential movie option and his parents had blessed him with a handsome face.
(Author Richard Mason)
To be honest, I began the book in a dubious frame of mind. The narrator of the story is a man in his 70s who is looking back on his life. What, I asked myself, can a young man in his 20s know of a man of those years. I soon discovered that the story reflected an earlier time, when the central character was in his twenties, the author’s age. There could be no problem with authenticity and, to be honest, I was soon captivated by an original tale of love and passion, one that was as dark as a gothic can get. What’s more, it was beautifully written.
When I finished the book, I made a mental note to follow the young man’s career. But, sadly, after moving on to other books I forgot both his name and the title of the work. Recently, however, I was browsing through another stack of dollar books and found a copy of “The Drowning People” again. Knowing not to trust my memory, I wrote down the author’s name so I could look up his biography. When I did, I discovered that the author is now his thirties – still ridiculously young by my count – but I was surprised to learn that the film based on the book never materialized. What’s more, I ran across a critic who wrote that Mason’s succeeding novels had failed to enjoy the success of his first.
For some reason, that critic’s observation annoyed me. Given the writer’s talent, the assessment had to be wrong and I have vowed to read all of Mason’s books.
Why a career that began with promise seems to have stalled, I don’t know, especially when some authors thrive even though their prose is an affront to ink. I take comfort in the knowledge that Mason has years and years to perfect his craft, however. And for his talent and youth, I continue to envy him.