Magnus Mills,
The Restraint of Beasts
(Scribner, 1999)

The Restraint of Beasts is not a simple novel, though it gives that deceptive appearance.

Magnus Mills writes in simple English. Hemingway would applaud his stark and plain style. Yet, there are things going on just beneath the surface that will grasp your imagination and have this simple story haunting your mind for days after you read the last page.

It is a simple story: the newly appointed foreman of a fence-building crew is sent from Scotland with his two-man crew to do a job in the north of England. The foreman, the unnamed narrator of the tale, soon makes it apparent he has reservations about his assignment and, in particular, his crewmen who are as skilled in avoiding work as they are in doing it.

Things go awry even before they leave Scotland when a customer is accidentally killed. Rather than reporting the incident or taking other actions we would assume "normal," they bury the man and move on. A similar incident occurs soon after their arrival in England.

There are reminders here of Kafka and Becket and humor of a decidedly dark turn between turns of repetitious drudgery and pub-crawling that is the lot of these hapless laborers. Mills crams some memorable characters into the short 214 pages of this novel, including a father who builds a stockade to keep his son away, the obsessive owner of the fence-building company and the equally obsessed Hall brothers.

I believe I'll be wanting more of Mills' tales.

- Rambles
written by John R. Lindermuth
published 17 September 2005

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