Whenever Roald Dahl’s stories come into a conversation, someone will mention, with laughter and a kind of horrified amazement, “William and Mary”, in which the brain and single, lidless eye of a once-domineering, tobacco-hating husband are experimentally preserved with the help of an early life-support invention. Visiting William in the lab, his widow-wife, Mary, lights a cigarette and blows smoke into his furious eye. “I just can’t wait to get him home,” she says. Over the 45 years of his career as a writer, Dahl’s fictions changed in tone, subject and audience, but the points of view of both characters in “William and Mary” typify his approach. The writer’s stare is unblinking, and most of his tales are irritants, provocations. Fantastic as Grimm, neat as O Henry, heartless as Saki, they stick in the mind long after subtler ones have faded: incredible (literally), unforgettable and vengefully funny.
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