“Mackintosh” is a nearly 14,000-word short story by W. Somerset Maugham found in the 1921 collection The Trembling of a Leaf. That collection is most notable for the inclusion of what is almost certainly Maugham’s most famous work of short fiction, “Rain” and its protagonist who definitely ranks among Maugham’s most famous characters, Miss Sadie Thompson. While not attaining that level of familiarity, “Mackintosh” has often been singled out by critics as being the runner-up in terms of literary quality. The unidentified author of a 1921 review of the collection for the Saturday Review in London declares that while “Rain” is a masterwork that manages to rise above any serious attack against its quality, “Mackintosh” easily makes it case for being “placed second on the list of excellence.”
Reflecting the element which unifies the collection, “Mackintosh” is an island adventure that may be set in a paradise, but does not reveal itself as taking place in paradise. Like most of the standout assortment of short stories composed by Maugham (including “Rain”) it is a tale of a psychological battle of wills. In this case, the contestants are the man who has been the island administrator for a quarter century--Walker--and his assistant arrived from Aberdeen a mere two years earlier: one Mr. Mackintosh. Walker is a grotesque: sixty-years of flab perched atop a height that doesn’t even reach average. Mackintosh is just ugly: a skinny thirty-something scarecrow with a face like a skull. It is almost as if they were born to become antagonists in every imaginable way.
The battle of wills which takes place between these two men is obviously not handled simplistically. Had that been the author’s intention, he more than manifests the talent to have pared down the word count well below the 10,000 mark. It is in those “extra” 4000 words that the curiously titled tale makes its worthy argument for the silver behind the gold standard of “Rain.” The complexity of the two characters allows the story to be interpreted through a multi-colored prism that stretches from Freudian psychology to anti-colonialist literature to even the possibility of a spiritual interpretation. That title, after all, is frustratingly odd for a story that might, after all, just as equally well have been titled “Walker.” Except that, well…is there a species of forbidden fruit known as a Walker apple?