Mary Morris, like many American authors, pursues an academic career in tandem with an authorial one, in her case at Princeton University and more recently as a ‘writer-in-residence’ at the University of California at Irvine. The idea of having a campus scribe or redbrick bard on tap at an academic establishment is still more prevalent in American than here, and while one can only applaud a system prepared to put money into enterprises regarded in this country as wasteful and inessential, the award of such a post can be a mixed blessing. Vladimir Nabokov teaching at Cornell University wrote Lolita; Mary Morris, on the other hand, has come up with The Waiting Room.
Morris’s writing gives the clear impression of being learned, and is presumably teachable too, given her pedagogic successes. Certainly The Waiting Room displays so many studied narrative and descriptive effects that one is tempted to think it was intended primarily as a manual for students of ‘creative writing’. Sentences of the type: ‘Somehow Badger knew as he turned and walked away … that they would not see each other again’ – appear so often and with such minimal variation in wording that I was forced to check page numbers to be sure that they hadn’t mistakenly been included twice.