The Long Take is a most unusual novel. Robin Robertson has penned a wonderful poetic description of a man’s spiritual journey after some horrific experiences as an Allied soldier in World War 2. Walker’s geographical journey away from Nova Scotia to post-war Los Angeles, parallels his inner journey from contended innocence before the war to moral degradation after it. Robertson describes the tearing down of the old quarters of the City which scatters the fragile communities living there in exquisite and compassionate detail.
The Long Take also catalogues the attempts by several movie directors to capture this sense of rapid but destructive capitalist development taking place before Walker’s eyes in the city.
But the novel’s real strength lies in the poignant vignettes of ordinary people, both men and women, whose lives have been ruined by personal or collective tragedy. In particular, Walker tries to follow up on the experiences of fellow soldiers who end up on the bottom tier of society and are left just hanging on there until they fall off into the abyss of nothingness. In the end, Walker simply follows them. His fellow journalist, Pike, is simply the symbol of an evil, lurking behind always, just waiting to devour him when the time comes.
But while this novel is a literary master-piece, I found it to be a moral kop-out. Walker’s approach and attitude to his own and other’s suffering is the exact anti-thesis of Edith Eger in her auto-biography, “The Choice”, which I reviewed last month. While Walker relates with kindness and compassion to those suffering loss in the dark and lonely places of Los Angeles and other cities, he can offer no real hope to those people at all, because he has none himself.
In the few, curt but sincere post-cards that Walker sends to his former fiancée, Annie MacLeod back in Nova Scotia, we catch a glimpse of what Walker could have become had he been able to overcome his own private suffering. It is only towards the end of the novel, that we realize that his real problem is not the suffering of others but the evil acts that he himself committed during the war. His own religious background (rosary beads at the bottom of a box) is not strong enough for him to hope for redemption. So he simply denies himself and others that possibility.
In the end, he can only describe the destruction of communities, of individuals and of himself. He cannot construct anything new as those recovering through involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous may be able to do. Walker chooses the bottle rather than the Bible. That is why the novel is a kop-out. There are other choices to be made. Other choices that are more humanly authentic.