I finished David Storey’s Pasmore on November 11, 2010.
The story in a nutshell: Boy Behaving Badly on Sabbatical.
Dissatisfied and frustrated for reasons he can’t quite pinpoint, Colin Pasmore, a history lecturer at University College in London, has a year off to do research, and instead, uses that time to destroy his life. He appears to be going through a mid-life crisis--signaled by a recurring dream of being overtaken in a race--at thirty. He puts himself, his wife, three young children, parents, and sisters through the wringer by having an affair with an emotionally unavailable older woman and moving out.
The book tracks the emotional toll that Pasmore’s actions take on himself and on all those around him. His wife, Kay, and children are at first made miserable by his absence and later by his presence, with his wife eventually beginning a short-term relationship with an acquaintance. His father, a miner, feels badly repaid for the struggle he went through to insure a future for his son away from the mines. Pasmore himself never seems to solve the question of what he wants, ultimately sinking into depression once his lover calls it quits and becoming mildly unhinged before his wife finally takes him back.
Pasmore's discontent seems to have its roots in some combination of male and class anxiety. While he has succeeded, according to the terms of his parents’—specifically his father’s--wishes for him, escaping the working-class life his parents still live, he somehow feels short-changed. While male colleagues and neighbors seem to understand and sympathize with his disaffection to a certain extent, his father finds his actions reprehensible. When Pasmore goes to his parents’ home to apologize after having reunited with Kay, his father calls him out: “Don’t worry, I know why you came back here,” his father said. “The same reason you went back to Kay. She’s a fool to have you. She’s sillier than I ever thought. If she only knew she’s making it easier for you to go the next time” (191).
Though the drama here is real and the emotions necessarily overwrought, the prose is very plain and straightforward. Pasmore is clearly falling apart, but we’re given few explanations or analyses of his behavior. There’s almost a refusal to go behind the actions that take place. No one comes to any sort of realization; we sense no epiphany or growth, and Pasmore’s father’s assessment rings true. Things end up looking very much as they did at the outset, but the threat of more upheaval remains.
Storey provides no easy answers for any of the problems that the text describes—those of class expectations and mobility, of manhood and its responsibilities and desires. His portrayal of Pasmore makes him far from sympathetic. We can see the impulsive logic of his actions, even as we can see that his discontent has no easy solution. And while I grew as weary of Pasmore’s egocentrism as I did of the Jake Hersh’s in Mordecai Richler’s St. Urbain’s Horseman, I felt less at odds with Storey’s bleak vision.
I was probably most concerned at the way Pasmore wasted a perfectly good sabbatical. Now that’s a real crime.