Along Rideout Road That Summer by Maurice Duggan, 1963

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by Maurice Duggan, 1963

"Along Rideout Road That Summer" was begun by Maurice Duggan toward the close of 1960, the year in which he held the Burns Fellowship at Otago University. It appeared in 1963 in Landfall, New Zealand's premier literary journal of the period, and was later collected with eight other stories in Summer in the Gravel Pit, which was published in London and in New Zealand in 1965. This was only Duggan's second collection of stories but was greeted in New Zealand as a major literary event. The Burns Fellowship had allowed the author to write free from financial pressures for the first time in his life, providing a period of unparalleled productivity and growth. "Along Rideout Road That Summer" is a bravura piece marking the culmination of Duggan's intense work over the year 1960 and the successful break at last by the New Zealand short story from the traditions of high modernism and social realism that had preceded it.

The basis of the story is very simple; indeed, Duggan had used the same material once before in a sketch entitled "Six Place Names and a Girl." A teenager named Buster O'Leary relates the tale of his running away and finding himself in the morning at the farm of Puti Hohepa, "a mere dozen miles from the parental home." Buster's father is a rural storekeeper of European descent and a narrow-minded disposition, while Puti Hohepa is a farmer and a Maori (Polynesian), who takes an unhurried attitude both to life and the husbanding of his land. Buster, "a bookish lad," is fond of quoting poetry and dreamy philosophizing, but he does labor work on the farm and begins an idyllic sexual relationship with Fanny, Hohepa's largely uneducated daughter. Eventually Mr. O'Leary arrives to ask his son to return home, and after various appeals to propriety he is made to leave in abject defeat. By the next day, however, Buster has begun to realize that his stay with the Hohepas could only be temporary. After saying goodbye to Fanny he eventually departs by hitching a ride with a passing car that drives off "through the tail-end of summer."

With its contrasts of character and lifestyle, "Along Rideout Road That Summer" is a story at the heart of traditional New Zealand literary themes, but it is Duggan's use of language that overwhelms us on first reading the story and that leaves the most lasting impression. Duggan has made skillful use of the double perspective provided by an older Buster recalling the events of his youth, and he is able to incorporate successfully a number of different registers within the story at once. In the space of a paragraph, as Neil Besner has shown, Duggan is able to employ the language of traditional European romanticization of the Maori race, of fashion and fashionable phrase imported from abroad, highly literary rhetoric and its parody, and colloquial New Zealand idiom. That Duggan is able to make these cohere in what Buster himself calls a "verbose review" is a remarkable achievement due partly to the author's success with monologue and partly to the well-known nature of the plot for readers of New Zealand fiction. Buster appears to be addressing an audience in a self-conscious manner, but the nature of his relation to that audience, and even the audience itself, changes subtly with the story's changes in register. This richness of language has provoked a number of literary critical interpretations.

It is the exuberance of Duggan's writing that carries the reader through the story's linguistic complexities. "Along Rideout Road That Summer" sparkles with jokes, ironies, and asides. In it many of the components usually associated with the early, colloquial stories of Frank Sargeson, Duggan's mentor and widely regarded as the father of New Zealand literature, are examined, inverted, and finally rejected. Buster cannot find escape from the world into Puti Hohepa's pastoral halfway-farm, and in any event the farm itself is too rundown and dilapidated to be the proper stuff of pastoral. Fanny is at once "a picture of rustic grace" and a "collapsible sheila," Puti Hohepa a "dignified dark prince" and a "chocolate old bastard." Buster describes his own emotions in qualified terms as "almost happy," his reaction to his father's departure as "an impossible pairing of devotion and despair." Buster leaves the Hohepa farm in a passing hearse and there is a sense at the story's end of a loss of Edenic innocence, but his reemphasized happiness suggests a concomitant sense of newfound freedom.

The flexibility of Duggan's style means that "Along Rideout Road That Summer" is able to touch on many areas of importance to New Zealand literature, but one of the most famous occurs in the scene when Buster meets Fanny for the first time. Duggan describes at length Buster driving a battered Ferguson tractor back and forth to plough one of Puti Hohepa's paddocks, reciting Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" while Fanny sits perched on the gate and strums her ukelele. For Buster and for most New Zealanders—despite their Eurocentered education and expectations—someone like Fanny can be the only indigenous Abyssinian maid and a Hohepa-like farm the only Xanadu. Buster's rich elaboration "of how to cope with the shock of recognition of a certain discrepancy between the real and the written" is performed "in riddles and literary puddles" and has become a seminal moment in New Zealand fiction. His acknowledged failure to make the differing parts converge throughout the story contributes to its final, paradoxical sense of loss and release.

Some critical debate has occurred in New Zealand in recent years over race relations in the story and Buster's attitude to the Maori. W. H. Pearson has argued that the young Buster's view is a limited one, containing much of his fellow countrymen's prejudice of Maori as second-class citizens but tempered and occasionally brought into ironic relief by the views of the older narrator. Terry Sturm sees the younger Buster as inclined to sentimentalize the Maori. Buster has illusions about the sexual freedom of his relationship with Fanny and of Puti Hohepa as a superior father-figure, only to have them punctured by Hohepa's unwanted advice: "A boy shouldn't hate his father; a boy should respect his father." C. K. Stead has argued that "Along Rideout Road That Summer" contains no such moralizing and that Buster's story is one of self-discovery, of recognition of his closeness to and distance from his father, and of the experience of love. That the story is able to sustain all three interpretations is testament to its fecundity and its enduring relevance. Many critics have called it Duggan's masterpiece, and some have claimed it as the best short story ever written in New Zealand fiction.

—Ian Richards

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Along Rideout Road That Summer by Maurice Duggan, 1963

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