Tall Stuff is the childhood nickname of a tall woman who decides to try out for a lead part in a comedy called “Banana Boats at Midnight,” put on by a local theatre group.
This is fictional account, set in a place called Sunfield, but it is a novel that draws on Norma West Linder’s prior experiences in community theatre to create a cast of characters that one can imagine she once knew in that same context.
The play involves three men, eight women, and the director. Though she has no experience, Victoria Walker tries out for the part of Priss, the leading lady, in large part because she has fallen for her new neighbour, Mitch Ames, who has the part of the Professor. Her friend Allen nailed the part of the boyfriend, but Tori is forced to endure several readings before she lands the part of Priss, the Professor’s secretary.
Throughout the novel, Tori nervously observes the cast of characters in her own tale, which is both socially tolerant and remarkably without prejudice—for it includes a casting couch, men and women with little sexual inhibition, and even a man who comes out of the closet as a bisexual. The story travels slowly, building the reader’s interest in its characters, layer upon layer, as they enter the months-long ordeal of rehearsing a play.
In Banana Boats, as the actors soon call the play, the Professor is writing a treatise on the lifestyles of several prostitutes in a large city. Tori’s friend, Allen, is Priss’s suspicious and overly anxious boyfriend. Needless to say, Tori’s relationship with Mitch soon begins to interfere with their work on the play.
Tall Stuff offers no “quick solutions” to the tensions that develop between the main protagonists. Instead, it turns inward, focusing on Tori’s personal development and her negotiation of relationships within the small cast of characters in the play. Indeed, over time, the novel evokes the same response in the reader that Tori experiences, causing the reader to feel they are involved in the same struggle to understand the personality of the leading man that his girlfriend struggles with.
All is going well until Allen suddenly decides to elope with Tori’s room mate, Mary Alice, who has been given the task of being book keeper for the play.
It is just three weeks before the play is due to go live and this turn of events offers a real challenge to the director, Max, until Tori suggests – based on a note left by Allen – that the part of the secretary’s boyfriend should be given to a backstage hand with halitosis named Derek.
Max, the director, takes the news badly, but it turns out that Allen was correct. Derek does know the part, so Tori suffers Derek’s halitosis for the sake of the play, and all is saved – except for the fact that the Professor keeps upstaging his secretary.
Tori faces a challenge that becomes a turning point in the novel when Max asks her to ignore the directions Mitch gives her, which run counter to his orders. Would the reader make the same choices as Tori Walker does? That is up to the reader to decide.
Well known as a poet who lives in Sarnia, Ontario, this is Norma West Linder’s fifth novel and her 23rd book.