Short Story Review: Mari Wolf’s “The Statue” (1953)

Anton Kurka’s cover for the January 1953 issue

I thought Mari Wolf’s “The Statue” (1953), a rumination on mortality, might find a home in my series on SF stories that are critical in some capacity of space agencies, astronauts, and the culture which produced them. However, due to its overall positivism–despite the blue-collar grit and focus on death–it didn’t fit. I would like to thank “Friend of the Site” Mark Louis Baumgart (see comments) for pointing me towards a new author!

Mari Wolf (1927-), best known for her contributions to fandom including the Fandora’s Box column (1951-1956) in Imagination, published seven short stories between 1952 and 1954, six of which appeared in If. Unfortunately, after her divorce in 1955 from fellow SF author Rog Phillips (1909-1966), she stopped publishing SF. Here is a brief bibliographic blurb on her life, career, and SF endeavors. Ted White wrote an article about her in the fanzine e*I*5 (Vol. 1 No. 5) December 2002 (here). The issue also includes Wolf’s short story “Prejudice” (1953), which only received a fanzine publication.

“The Statue” (1953), 4.5/5 (Very Good), first appeared in the January 1953 issue of If, ed. James L. Quinn. You can read the story here (pdf).  The story itself is devilishly simple and deeply affective. Martha and Lewis Farewell, the last survivors of the first Mars colonization mission 65 years earlier, desire to return to Earth before they die. But the elderly cannot make the three-month trip due to medical risks without a special dispensation. On a Mars redolent with Ray Bradbury-esque frontier feel, Martha and Lewis ponder their pasts, their shared love, their accomplishments, their last desires, and the pull of home, wherever that might be.

The Way Narratives Catch Hold…

“The Statue” explores the forces of self-reflection as mortality approaches. Here, narratives catch hold and uplift. Unlike Walter M. Miller’s “Death of an Astronaut” (1954), the narratives, and all the accompanying memories, held dear by Martha and Lewis do not complicate their achievement but rather accentuate it. While the general population of Mars might have forgotten that the couple still lives and farms outside the main settlement, both would relive their experiences again: “We’d go through all the hardships of those first fear years, and enjoy them just as much” (88).

….and Center You in This Turbulent World

Wolf evokes the stories of working-class immigrants, who risk everything to build their lives in a foreign place. Martha and Lewis still feel the pull of Earth. They still tell time according to Earth years. They sense the alienness of their dry and alkaline new planet, unlike the countless descendants born and raised in the land of red dust. There’s a generational sadness that permeates the pages. Without children of their own, they live among the descendants of their original colonist friends—and observe the changing attitudes, the past slipping away…

But there is no generational strife. In the end the community comes together and celebrates their stories, their struggle, and their role in creating a new home for those who come after.

It’s beautiful. It’s sad. It’s affirming. Recommended.

Len Moffatt and Mari Wolf at the third Los Angeles Westercon in 1950 (source)
Bob Martin’s interior art illustrating the story

Anthologies “The Statue” appeared in

Stanley Meltzoff’s cover for the 1954 edition
Val Biro’s cover for the 1955 edition
Margaret Brundage’s cover for the 2003 edition
Ed Emshwiller’s cover for the 2011 edition

For cover art posts consult the INDEX

For book reviews consult the INDEX

For TV and film reviews consult the INDEX

12 thoughts on “Short Story Review: Mari Wolf’s “The Statue” (1953)”

  1. Oh heavy, heavy sigh

    I know better than to come here when I have more than $1.99 to my name because very shortly I won’t anymore

    1. Thanks for the kind implication!

      I really enjoyed this one. As I mentioned in a comment on Anthony’s review of Miller’s “Death of an Astronaut” (1954), this story reads as a polar opposite.

      Here narrative is a creative and affirming force (and ostensibly “true” to both the subject of the story and reader). While in “Death of an Astronaut” both perspectives are up for debate!

      1. It will always give me a happy frisson when my favorite genre holds opposite and antithetical ideas because, whether or not I read the viewpoint less in tune with my own, it means the genre is still alive and vital.

  2. I’m always surprised when somebody likes the same thing as I do. Maybe there’s hope for the world after all. Anyway, you did a great review of the story, and the extra links are great too. I look forward to reading the ezine that your link led me to.

    1. Thank you for bringing it to my attention! It read nicely in parallel to my last review of Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s fantastic “Death of a Spaceman” (1954) — also a rumination on mortality and the stories we tell ourselves.

  3. I liked this—it went down smooth. A nice rumination on place and the ties that bind. It even managed to negotiate—successfully—the pull of nostalgia and maudlin sentimentalism. I felt a slight tug on the heartstrings but not too much.

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