Deborah Dainton is a pretty young woman who was raised in a relative life of ease, except that she is a survivor of polio which left her lame in one leg. While her good looks can attract a man's attention, her disability inevitably makes them shy away. She has never been in a real relationship until meeting a charismatic and direct young artist at a party thrown by her sister. At first, Deborah is put off by Leigh Hartley's persistence, but eventually he wins her over and gently pushes her to live a more full life that is not defined by her disability. The pair begin a love affair, but Deborah soon learns that Leigh was less than honest with her about certain aspects of his life. Still, when it comes to Leigh, Deborah has stars in her eyes, and is willing to overlook his shortcomings. Before long, she finds herself being drawn into his shady dealings with thieves who want her to provide them with inside information about the auction house where she works. At first, it seems like a simple matter, but slowly, she finds herself being pulled deeper and deeper into their web of lies until she is fully immersed in their plan and eventually discovers that Leigh is not the man she thought him to be.
The Walking Stick was a distinctly different story than any I've read before. It has elements of romance and suspense, both of which can be palpably felt, but I would definitely not categorize it as genre fiction. Instead, it seemed to have a more literary leaning both in its plot and writing style. The book started out a little slow for me with it having a rather passive, impersonal feel in spite of its first-person narration. The author seemed to have a "just the facts" approach with a rather clipped writing style, but what I initially saw as a weakness eventually grew on me. His abbreviated sentences which weren't really even sentences at all, but merely words and phrases, soon flowed into an odd sort of haiku which ended up having a very poetic feel. I also couldn't help but sense that the walking stick itself was a metaphor for something bigger that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Overall, The Walking Stick was an unusual and interesting story.
I thought it rather uncommon to have a male author writing in the first-person female perspective, but having everything coming from Deborah's point of view was a pretty ingenious way to write this novel. The main protagonist, Deborah Dainton is a unique character as well. She is a young woman who is fair of face, but as a polio survivor she is lame in one leg. Her looks can raise the interest of young men, but when they see her limping along, leaning on her walking stick, they usually end up turning away. At twenty-six, she is quite innocent and has never been in a real relationship. She was also raised in a comfortable, and one could possibly even say privileged, environment. All of this plays into her fascination with lowly artist, Leigh Hartley, when she meets him at a party thrown by her sister. At first, Deborah keeps herself at a distance from Leigh which I think was a sub-conscious way of protecting herself, as she's very self-conscious about her disability. Initially, it is so pronounced that she doesn't even seem to like Leigh which made me wonder why she was even going out with him. She does slowly warm up to him though, and eventually, I was able to sense that she had truly fallen in love with this man. I believe it was her love and perhaps gratitude for Leigh helping her to feel alive again which fueled her being willing to do things she otherwise might not have. However, there were still times when I wasn't 100% certain of how an upstanding young woman like Deborah could allow herself to become involved in such questionable dealings. Her willingly living with a married man was eyebrow raising enough for the time in which it was written (1960s), but then she agreed to an illegal venture which started out as something simple (or so she thought) and ended with her being fully involved in the scheme. Still, it was a fascinating character study which did, on some level, draw me in. I think perhaps some of the weaknesses in the character development might have been a result of the editing for this abridged edition.
Deborah's love interest, Leigh Hartley, is a very earthy and direct kind of guy. He definitely doesn't mince words and is quite persistent and charming in his attempts to get Deborah to go out with him and eventually become his lover. On the surface, he certainly seems to care about Deborah and pushes her to expand her boundaries and not allow her disability to define her capabilities. I could relate to Leigh's sense of inadequacy over having the ability to paint, but apparently not having a true talent for expressing himself through his art. At first glance, he appears to be the perfect boyfriend for Deborah, but it quickly come to light that he hasn't been entirely straightforward about his marital status which almost immediately puts into question what other things he might not have been honest about. In spite of me questioning his veracity early on, I still didn't anticipate just how dishonest he'd been which led to some plot surprises for me.
There were a few other places in the narrative besides Deborah's character development where I had the distinct feeling that something was missing, which again, I think was a result of the editing. Overall though, The Walking Stick was an interesting departure from my usual reading tastes while still embodying some of the elements that I enjoy in genre fiction. I enjoyed a lot of the little details about safe-cracking and the clever bypassing of the security system during the jewelry heist. All in all, once the pace picked up, it was a fun little read that I probably wouldn't have picked up without it being part of the Reader's Digest Condensed Books - Vol. III, 1967 anthology. Interestingly enough, The Walking Stick was made into a movie way back in 1970, but sadly, it doesn't appear to be available for home viewing which is too bad. I think it might be enjoyable to watch this story brought to life on the screen
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