English literary history as it is practiced in New Haven and its colonial outposts continues to treat the period 1660—1800 as a brief and fairly homogeneous era populated by a few critics whose task it is to provide the intellectual bridge between Milton and the Romantics. There are also of course a few poets—most notably Collins, but not Dryden or Pope or Johnson. Writing history this way, Knapp is complex (perhaps overly so) and interesting in treating Coleridge and Wordsworth, merely proleptic in his use of Milton, and distortive of what comes between. He is concerned with personification as a sublime gesture of poetic (and by extension political) power; but the leap from one kind of power to the other was not made in the same way over all the years he treats, and (despite excellent chapters on the Romantics) Knapp needs a different literary history before he can explain convincingly what Milton’s legacy meant during the century and a half after his death.
Parker’s book is worth reading just for its marvelous chapter on Sanctuary, in which he reads with such care and insight as to make familiar passages reverberate with new meanings. Throughout this study of the shape of each of Faulkner’s major novels, Parker enriches Faulkner by constantly comparing his work to other American fiction. His view of Absalom, Absalom even uses Whitman to elucidate a problem in Quentin and Shreve’s narration. Parker correctly sees that novel as a puzzle for the reader, who must work with what he does not know, but the chapter does not quite convince one that the novel contains facts about which these poor readers can be certain.
This book is a brilliant study of the impact of the controversies about social, material, and spiritual well-being that accompanied the expansion of industrial production in 19th-century England. This “Condition of England Debate” engulfed every area of English intellectual and cultural life and changed the nature of many disciplines. Narrative fiction, especially the novel, whenever it became part of the discourse over industrialism underwent basic structural changes. Using the “Industrial Novels” of Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Kingsley, Benjamin Disraeli, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot, the author demonstrates with profound skill this relation between social change and change in literary form.
A series of interviews with distinguished translators, this is the first book to explore the autobiographical impetus behind a translator’s work. This exploration leads to discussion of theoretical matters as well, and throughout the conversations a lively interplay develops between personal and theoretical approaches to the problems of translation. Unlike many collections of interviews, The Poet’s Other Voice is at once unified and wide-ranging, due to Honig’s deft orchestration of differing voices. As Honig himself puts it, “Taken all together, the conversations resolve themselves into something like a graph of the conditions under which translation is possible.”
No one before Michael Ketcham has had the courage or stamina to mount a book-length study of the Spectator, and sifting Ketcham’s dense prose to find his thin argument we can perhaps understand why. Ketcham knows contemporary criticism of 17th- and 18th-century literature well, and in a series of chapters duly headed space and time, language and context, he finds in Addison and Steele voluminous confirmation of critical ideas learnt elsewhere. His study of the Spectator yields us nothing new, either about the magazine itself or about its context.
Modestly and with due apologies for failing to fall in with modern critical tastes, Thomas Vargish writes an elegant and entirely persuasive account of the ways in which Charlotte Bronte, Dickens, and George Eliot’s novelistic worlds embody providential order and (in varying ways) “poetic justice.” His exemplary readings of particular works (especially Villette) are buttressed with comments by the authors themselves and by contemporary reviewers, showing that for each writer novels can be didactic because each conceived the world to be so. This is an important book which helps us to connect 19th-century fiction both with what came before and with its own cultural context.
Pequigney’s highly provocative study offers a radical reinterpretation of one of our literature’s most famous—and troublesome—masterworks. The author’s central thesis aims at reworking the Sonnets’ basic triangle, positing the mistress’s heterosexuality, the poet’s bisexuality, and the young man’s homosexuality. The reading which results boldly upsets the standard notions that have encumbered commentary on the work. The book should force even the most skeptical to some serious reconsiderations, and for this reason alone deserves wide attention.
Purportedly “an anatomy of modern horror, ” this volume could be subtitled, Dr. Bettelheim Lost It at the Movies. The thesis and method of The Uses of Enchantment are crossed with S.J. Perelman’s dialogue for the Marx Brothers, yielding a zany and tendentious but ultimately unconvincing analysis of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman—along with their sources and sequelae. Fun to read, but on all levels perfectly innocuous, alas.
For much of his long career William Carlos Williams was prone to advertise himself as a theorist and technician of a new prosody in a post-Einsteinian age. He invoked the measure, the line, and the variable foot with a persistence and urgency that has convinced critics about the importance of these ideas, but left them perplexed about precise definitions and applications. In this efficiently composed, surprisingly readable monograph, Stephen Cushman rescues discussions of Williams’ prosody from the realm of the oracular and metaphorical. For the first time Williams’ theory, practice, and the relationship between them are described in a systematic, straightforward way. Books about prosody are usually deadly, but Cushman’s is refreshingly interesting and humane. It may well be the most valuable discussion of Williams that has appeared in a decade.
The author of acclaimed books on the Virgin Mary and Joan of Arc has written a more broadly conceived study of the female form from antiquity to the present. Drawing on a wealth of examples from myth, popular culture, literature, and art, the author includes 100 black and white illustrations as documentation. Erudite and suggestive, this is a book to be dipped into repeatedly. Beneath the profusion of learning and countless examples of female form, from ancient goddesses to the Statue of Liberty, is the author’s sustained paean to the nobility of the human, more specifically, female, body.
Cameron argues that Thoreau’s Journal is an autonomous composition and that it is his primary work. She asks interesting theoretical questions about the relationship between private and public discourse and claims that the Journal challenges the basic assumptions we make about published literary texts. But her claims and arguments are more ingenious than persuasive. She wants to attribute a literary force and import to “journal discourse” that are out of all proportion to what a journal is: observations of varying interest and quality written over a long period of time and preserved in chronological order. If Thoreau attributed central importance to this activity, it reveals more about Thoreau than about journal writing. Thoreau “wrote nature” to avoid writing society; it follows that a journal is a better place to do so than a published book. There is too large a gap between the portentous tone Cameron adopts in her analysis and the insights she delivers.
O’Hara examines “the various “anti-natural” aesthetics informing literary history for the last century or so in the Anglo-American tradition of critical theory.” In chapters devoted to the works of Walter Pater, Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman, Northrop Frye, and Paul de Man, he explores the tendency of these critics to present a “romance of interpretation” or (ironic) creation of a self-reflecting theory. Nietzsche, however, functions as the central figure in O’Hara’s study because he possesses “the innocence of becoming” Pater, Frye, and the Yale school cannot find for themselves. Criticism as practiced in colleges and universities today can be as creative or “even more creative,” in O’Hara’s words, “than creation” if critics strive to create an individual style of critical thinking and pursue “a deliberately perverse ideology of literary study.” A romantic at heart, O’Hara longs for a critical return to a poetic conception of nature. But in the age of Reagan and under the constant threat of nuclear holocaust, such a return is impossible.
George S. Patton, Jr. was undoubtedly the most colorful American combat leader of the Second World War. Martin Blumenson, author of The Patton Papers, has written an important psychobiography of this warrior-hero. Patton’s personality actually is easily fathomed. The massive body of correspondence he left reveals that he was obsessed with self-doubt and insecurity, weaknesses for which he attempted to compensate by hiding behind a facade of bravado. Constantly jealous of his military colleagues, he responded to their advancement with petty criticisms. An elitist, he had no tolerance for those who failed to abide by his inflated personal standards. Patton consciously attempted to create his own “legend,” while not really believing in it himself. A man with no real political ideology, Patton bears a striking resemblance to the apolitical, Junker class commanders of Hitler’s Wehrmacht. While the image of the professional soldier itching for a fight—any fight—might be appealing romantically, one can only hope that the Patton ethos does not dominate our current military establishment’s thinking.
A vocal conservative academic is a rarity, and so one turns to this book with curiosity. Perhaps here, in the “incisive” essays the book jacket promises, we can find a refreshing corrective to scholarly orthodoxy. But such is not the case. Instead, the book gathers brief occasional essays that largely retread the Nashville Agrarians. The spirit is (understandably) defensive and cramped, the language (necessarily) elliptical. The theme is that since the Declaration of Independence Americans have witnessed a vast invasion of their liberty in the name of equality. The villains range from Abraham Lincoln to the proponents of the Civil Rights movement. The quest for equality appears only as a dangerous chimera. While conservatives may take joy or pleasure in the essays, liberals will reshelve the book with their ideology unruffled.
Reclusive, insecure, and often beset by financial worries despite her success, Agatha Christie nevertheless emerges from this study as a woman who embraced the challenges of an active mobile life. This eminently written biography, the most comprehensive to date of Dame Agatha, is the first authorized to use the Christie family papers. Christie’s notebooks are particularly well used to show how she developed ideas, plots, and characters, many of them the product of her frequent sojourns with husband and esteemed archaeologist Max Mallowan. Morgan’s presentation is judiciously balanced, and one not only gains new insights into the life and work of one of this century’s most prolific authors but also into the transitional nature of 20th-century British society in which she lived.
“I do believe in angels,” writes T. S. Matthews in his preface; and also, “All the people who appear in this book are dead. . . . I believe that some of them were or may have been angels.” And so he collects and describes his possible angels: relatives, friends, teachers, classmates, priests (remember, his father was a bishop), and those he describes as “Eminences, ” including James Thurber, Whittaker Chambers, Winston Churchill, Adlai Stevenson, and others. The last miniature is devoted to Patty, a Jack Russell terrier, undoubtedly one of his angels, whose last message was “entirely about love—that’s all I can tell you now.”
The earliest letter here, 6—7 Aug. 1787, is to Dorothy Wordsworth’s dear friend, Jane Pollard, and one of the last letters selected, 26 Dec.1828, is also to that friend, now, since 1795, Mrs. John Marshall. The very last letter here is to her niece Dora, in 1838, and it is still quintessentially Dorothy writing: “The Doves behind me at the small window—the laburnum with its naked seed pods shivers before my window and the pine-trees rock from their base—More I cannot write so farewell!” The young girl of 16 and the old woman of 67, in declining health, still have much in common. Most of the letters do not mirror the beauty and clarity of the journals, but they have their own charm and they mirror Dorothy clearly as a person.
Thornton Wilder used his journals to give his ideas play. He pledged himself to make every entry vital and alive. Most of the entries included in this volume pertain to Wilder’s problems with his own writings or his attempts to understand other writers. Wilder wrote to himself in a formal conversational manner. Unfortunately, Gallup has excluded the passages in which Wilder was most introspective. During the lengthy interval covered by the journal entries, the personal and historical context in which Wilder wrote is undetectable. This no doubt is due largely to Wilder’s unique use of the journals, but it may also be due partly to Mr. Gallup’s exclusion of Wilder’s most personal entries.
Wallington’s world was a very small one, the parish of St. Leonard’s Eastcheap, in the larger world of London. Here he was born in 1598 and here he died in 1658. He learned his father’s trade, that of turner, and was made free of the Company of Turners by patrimony at an unusually early age. He was not as successful as his father, perhaps because of his insatiable itch for reading and writing. Some 2,600 surviving pages, written from 1620 to 1654, testify to that urge to record his thoughts, his prayers, his excerpts from other men’s writings. Paul Seaver has made full use of all Wallington’s extant work—memoirs, letters, reflections—and in the course of doing so has given us a remarkable portrait of a 17th-century urban artisan.
William O’Connor was a waif from the Irish slums of old Boston who made himself into one of the respected men of letters and reformers of his day. He became known for his fierce championship of woman’s rights, abolition, and a number of more marginal causes, especially Delia Bacon’s theory of Shakespearean authorship. But mostly he was known, in his time as our own, as a friend and partisan of Walt Whitman, to whose iconography he contributed “The Carpenter” and The Good Gray Poet. This admirably full and sympathetic biography of O’Connor describes his life and (especially) his work in more than adequate detail, but it is often tilted to the relationship with Whitman. The accounts, for instance, of Whitman’s dismissal from the Department of the Interior and the first publication of his poems in England—in both of which episodes O’Connor figured prominently—are substantial, valuable contributions to Whitman studies. Through it all runs the faint, unmistakable flavor of a crankiness that seems quaint now but somehow refreshing and attractive.
Lee Miller was, like Mina Loy or Edna St. Vincent Millay, one of those legendary women of the 1920’s whose personal beauty, sexuality, and creativity brought her into the mainstream of the modern movement in the arts. Man Ray loved and photographed her when she was young; Picasso painted her portrait. Beyond her success as a courtesan, model, and exemplar of avant garde chic, she developed into a photographer of singular originality and opportunism, whose finest achievements came during her service as a war correspondent in the Allied invasion of Europe. She can be counted among the privileged, spoiled, lovable children of the century. Although she was unable to cope with the demands of adulthood except by self-indulgence or flight, she was always adventurous, free, even heroic in her way. The story of her life is perhaps too breathlessly narrated (by her son), but it is stubbornly honest, invariably attractive and interesting. The photographic record is a revelation.
The fifth volume of the masterfully edited Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy covers five years that witnessed the 73-year-old widower’s marriage to his 35-year-old secretary, the dismaying outbreak of World War I, the death of his favorite sister, and the publication of two substantial books of poems (Satires of Circumstance, which contained the incomparable, elegiac “Poems of 1912—13,” inspired by the death of the poet’s first wife, and Moments of Vision, by critical consent his finest single volume). Hardy, the working artist, spent his prodigious creative energies on his poems and not his letters, which tend to be brief and merely efficient. Thus they throw scant light on the writing itself but much light on the business of writing, to which Hardy’s veneration as a literary “figure” obliged him to attend.
Fitzgerald’s memoir tells the story of a man who has been very fortunate and successful and has managed to keep his sense of humor and perspective. This son of Irish immigrants got his first job in sports journalism and rose to such posts as editor of Sport magazine, director of the Literary Guild, and, until his recent retirement, president of the Book-of-the-Month Club. Perhaps the most engaging aspect of this insider’s story is his description of his encounters with the writers, editors, and celebrities he met just going about his job. This book also reprints outstanding columns written by men Fitzgerald hired or about people he knew intimately. The book is a warm and enjoyable memoir.
Paul David Nelson’s biography of “Mad” Anthony Wayne has two problems: 1) turgid prose and 2) an unattractive protagonist. The writing style is cluttered with dependent clauses and “hence’s” that make it all the more difficult to slog through 303 pages of text about a braggadocio yet oddly punctilious man whom I suspect I would never want to meet. The account of Wayne’s political career is extremely unclear. Typographical errors litter the text. The most useful part of the book may well be Nelson’s footnotes, as he relies on and quotes from correspondence and personal papers to an admirable extent. Unfortunately, even these notes are useless because: 1) an entire paragraph receives one footnote, so that up to 15 or 20 references are strung together; and 2) the notes appear at the back of the book, without even a running page guide to let the reader know where the notes are in the text. This is a book certainly not worth its $27.50 price.
History written in the grand tradition, characterized by sweeping narrative and punctuated by occasional anecdotes, is no longer in vogue among today’s professional historians. Yet this has not stopped writers like Page Smith and James MacGregor Burns from producing multivolume histories of the United States. These efforts are directed at a general audience rather than at the specialists, who prefer the detail found in monographs. This second volume in Burns’s The American Experiment is a fine example of the narrative form. In discussing the period 1863—1932, the author incorporates recent historiographical findings in a lively prose that conveys the excitement of the nation’s blossoming into an economic and political power. Burns devotes space not only to the “great men” of history, but also to farmers, immigrants, and other simple Americans, most of whom we have long forgotten. Indeed the author, a political scientist, has become something of a social historian for this project. This is a concise yet surprisingly complete, account of an important chapter in American history.
In the minds of most Westerners the Crusades conjure up romantic images of Christian knights fighting the Muslims in order to recapture the Holy Lands once again for Christianity. To the Arabs, however, the Crusades represented two centuries of repeated invasions and turmoil instigated by the West. In this volume the author presents the observations and views of Arab historians in a series of selective excerpts from their works over the two centuries of conflict that culminated in the defeat of the West in 1291. In his informative epilogue the author argues convincingly that much of the present day mistrust of the West by the Arab world is one of the lasting and bitter legacies of the Crusades.
The rice plantations of coastal Georgia differed significantly from their tobacco and cotton counterparts of the interior. Rice plantations typically were large-scale operations, requiring an abundance of land, capital, and slaves. Professor Smith has combed planters’ ledgers, probate court records, and innumerable secondary sources to reconstruct the rice culture of the Georgia low country, And she has ultimately produced two books. The first examines the techniques and economics of rice planting, while the second concentrates on slavery. Of the two, the former is more original and enlightening, perhaps because slavery has been the subject of numerous other studies, many of which the author has merely rehashed. Smith’s presentation is flawed by an irritating quirk: she has the tendency constantly to repeat herself.
One of the many excellent studies in recent years on a previously neglected president, Lisio’s prodigiously researched new book effectively disproves persistent contentions that Hoover was a racist who ignored and misled blacks and purged them from Southern Republican parties as part of a “lily-white” strategy. Lisio is not, however, a Hoover apologist; he argues that although Hoover genuinely wished to aid blacks, his ignorance of racial realities was so profound, his faith in voluntarism and gradualist, indirect action so naïve, and his distrust of established black politicians (as politicians, not blacks) so deep, that his actions and inactions were misinterpreted by almost everyone. Worse, his strategy required him to keep silent on racial issues, and he often refused to publicize positive gestures; his self-righteousness gave his silence a bitter and petty aspect when he ignored or turned against those who, with good reason, questioned his wisdom or his motives. Though Lisio pounds in his thesis a bit hard, his is a well-argued, well-written, and subtle analysis.
Professor Hosking of the University of London’s School of Slavonic Studies seeks in this book to combine social, intellectual, and political history into a coherent narrative. The politics of the USSR requires no great elaboration, being reasonably well understood, but the role of ideas and social forces in shaping the country has only recently become the subject of serious scholarly inquiry. This book will not open any new paths, but it does provide a point of departure for the beginning student.
It is impossible to understand Gorbachev if you do not reflect on Genghis Khan. This is not to say that Gorbachev is a new world-class conqueror but rather that his political mentality, like that of all Russian leaders for the past 700 years, has been shaped in great measure by the protracted Mongol occupation of Russia that began early in the 13th century. Halperin’s new book combines sound scholarship and a flair for storytelling that should help publicize this all too unfamiliar tale in the West.
This is a splendid translation of a book that has already become a standard reference work for historians who have read the original German edition. Professor Schwabe, who teaches at the University of Aachen, has examined Woodrow Wilson’s German policy—indeed his European policy in general—from a unique new perspective and has taught us much about our own history. Dispelling many of the myths that surround Wilson the peacemaker, Schwabe cuts to the core of postwar European-American realpolitik. An excellent study.
Robert Durden’s task in this brief book is to present a coherent overview of Southern politics in the century of slavery, Civil War, Reconstruction, and Redemption. While other authors in this series from the University Press of Kentucky have put forward new interpretations of various facets of Southern history, Durden opts for an extremely traditional approach, following closely the best-known lines of argument. Undergraduate students may possibly find this useful, but even they will sense the book’s origins: it is based on secondary accounts and exudes the air of summary. The “wound” of the title refers to racism, but even that truistic thesis provides little shape to this placid account of a tumultous subject.
Much has been written about Fidel Castro and the American reaction to his revolution, and debate over U.S. response to revolutions in Latin America is especially timely now. Lafayette College historian Welch has made a welcome contribution to this debate with this short, readable, and evenhanded study of the changing views on Castro of U.S. government officials, rightists and leftists of various types, academics, the press, and, as much as possible, the public, Although his analysis of events inside Cuba is a bit thin, he argues convincingly that American policies were not solely responsible for the direction taken by the Cuban Revolution but did accelerate that development. Perhaps more interesting are his detailed discussions of the reasons Cuba and Castro were so important to so many disparate groups in the United States, and why most Americans were eventually anti-Castro. Sensitive to change over time, of both Castro and American reaction to him, this is a worthy addition to the recent literature in its field.
This conspicuously brief book provides an efficient and up-to-date canvass of the perennially compelling question of what happened to the Roman republic in the last century of its life. Even within the short compass, space is wasted with too much generalized worrying about modern preconceptions, and some of the material— notably on cultural matters—is leaden and derivative. But on politics and society the authors are well-informed, sensible, and deft, and they animate things with some canny and fresh suggestions about the role of institutionalized competition in bringing Rome to its fate.
This latest volume in the Paladin History of England series allows Lord Blake to show off a bit. When it comes to knowing the insider’s story on English politics since World War I, no one is on surer ground. With swift strokes he covers the tragedies of 1915—18 without a monumental judgment. Churchill looms large because he was large and still held a seat in the House of Commons 40 years later. What sets the book apart is the sensible judgment that despite the loss of “empire,” the average Englishman was better off after both wars. Englishmen will not be so lucky, the third time around, he predicts (without a stuffy warning note). Lord Blake also explains why servants disappeared after 1918, while the general standard of living was raised. As to the sexual revolution of the last era, he only notes that the Profumo scandal set off a wild orgy, chiefly in the press. The changed attitude toward sex, he suspects, has something to do with the ebbing influence of organized religion. No apologist for the old empire, Lord Blake is not weeping about the constricted one that Harold Macmillan presided over. The point, he seems to be saying, is to survive. And, perhaps best of all, the Crown is still the cement that every Englishman believes worth paying for by the sackload.
From thorough studies of the English country house, Mark Girouard has turned his attention to the considerably broader subject of the Western city, in what he subtitles a social and architectural history. The sweep is grand: the Middle Ages, where all who could afford it wanted to live in cities; 16th-century Rome, where papal concern saw the proliferation of the city square; 17th-century northern cities of commerce for the burgeoning wealthy bourgeoisie; the 18th-century rise of a glittering pleasure-seeking society; the colonial city, the industrial city, the garden city, the modern city—all are set against the needs for the church, for trade, and for entertainment but also for crucial provision of services such as water supply, sewage, and transport. Scholarship is worn lightly in this compelling, readable, and beautifully illustrated book.
A consummate storyteller, Garrett thrusts us into his stories, then draws us through with the enthusiasm and appetite, the sense of fun, of a child at a carnival. Leaping across centuries from his highly admired historical novels, Garrett writes here of 20th-century circuses and soldiers, of Stella who dives from the top of a flimsy tower into a tub of flaming water. Yet behind the exuberance rest serious and troubling themes concerning the inadequacies of lives, the inner self that waits for just the right moment to shatter his characters’ fragile, acceptable exteriors.
It would be an understatement of major proportion to say that Robert Coover’s fiction is not for everyone. If, as you read Gerald’s Party, you find it to be inventive, amusing, in a phrase, right up your alley, I suggest that your psyche perhaps is due for a major overhaul. The novel has no real plot, not that the author likely ever intended that it should. Nominally, it’s about a murder at a cocktail party, but this chronicle of the absurd is chiefly a parody on the social and sexual mores of a self-proclaimed avant-garde. While Coover has some clever insights, these are buried under piles of tedious — and to say tedious is being generous — tripe. Readers who make it through the 300-plus pages of this silly book should receive a prize. A refund of the purchase price might be appropriate.
As might be expected, Quentin Bell is no match for his celebrated aunt, Virginia Woolf, whose biography he has so admirably written. However, he presents an interesting though implausible tale, which ranges in space from an isolated Canadian castle replete with all manner of luxuries to various European capitals to a family domain in the heart of Sussex. A hint of the major implausibility in the story may be given by suggesting a certain affinity with Orlando, though The Brandon Papers is not half as colorful or amusing.
Tim O’Brien’s last novel, Going After Cacciato, is thought by many to be the finest piece of fiction to come out of the Vietnam War. By comparison The Nuclear Age is an ambitious disappointment. The story of a man who spends his life obsessed with the inevitability of nuclear war, the novel aims to summarize the last 30 years of American history, with an eye for its farces as well as its tragedies. The problem with The Nuclear Age is its protagonist, who is also the narrator and who is (even by the standards of contemporary American fiction) excruciatingly disaffected and self-involved. In his case nuclear anxiety seems like a pretense for the indulgence of a wan narcissism. As he evolves from Ail-American boy to draft-dodging radical to eccentric millionaire, he stumbles up against history in various implausible ways.(The book often reads more like a parable than a novel.) Yet there are a handful of excellent comic moments and a few winning characters—notably the book’s children. O’Brien draws childhood with brilliant sympathy; his portrait of the narrator’s daughter, and of the narrator himself as a boy, are the most living things in the book.
“An extraordinary alertness came over him.” Conroy’s protagonists all possess a vivid awareness not only of the present but also the past. In fact, key moments from the past determine his characters’ behavior. His message is familiar—the randomness of modern life precludes us from seeing recognizable patterns—but Conroy interests us by using external objects to establish a character’s connection to the past. He asks us to pay attention to details so that we may also experience “an extraordinary alertness.” The best stories in this collection—”Midair, ” “Gossip,” and “The Sense of the Meeting”—reveal the complexity of relationships between men and women, fathers and sons, and remind us that memories play a significant role in the ongoing struggle these relationships produce. Conroy’s Midair is simply extraordinary.
This is a book Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas once must have feared would never be published. Two earlier drafts were confiscated by Cuban authorities, but Arenas managed to rewrite this version from memory and have it smuggled out of the country. The story centers on the deteriorating relationship of a young Cuban couple who have taken a vacation to the sea in hopes of saving their marriage. The first half of the novel is related by the wife in a series of dreams and hallucinations, intermittently broken by periods of dull reality. Hers is the frustrating tale of a woman who succumbs to the fact that she will never be able to fathom the tortured psyche of her spouse. The husband’s story follows in a dramatic meshing of poetry and prose, as the reader learns that the roots of his alienation and despondency lie in the failure of the revolution. Brilliantly conceived and executed, this is a major psychological novel about two human beings caught in the web of everyday life in Castro’s Cuba.
E. L. Doctorow’s latest novel, which one must assume is largely autobiographical, tells of a young boy’s childhood in New York City during the 1930’s. Although the child is principal narrator, the book is interspersed with reminiscences of his mother, older brother, and aunt, whose appraisals of the same events are usually harder and more realistic than the youth’s optimistic views. This mixture of recollections makes an otherwise merely touching, nostalgic story more intense and complete. Readers who grew up in urban areas during the Depression decade should not be surprised to find that they share with Doctorow’s character many of the same experiences.
Sam Hughes is no ordinary young girl fresh out of high school in a provincial Kentucky town. To be sure, she does get excited over earrings and TV videos and who’s hanging out at the Burger Boy, but Vietnam is her real obsession: her uncle Emmet’s exposure to Agent Orange, the war’s mental and physical crippling of Emmet’s veteran buddies, and—most important—the loss to Vietnam of her father, whom she never knew. In Country traces Sam’s struggle to discover her father, to make sense of the war and his death. The theme of entrapment and escape carries the novel from Hopewell, Kentucky to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington and a final scene that is stunning in its poignancy and power.
If Adventures in the Alaskan Skin Trade had been John Hawkes’ first novel, it—and he—would have passed unnoticed. Not that Skin Trade is a bad novel; it is simply an unremarkable one. Never with justice could one have applied such an unenticing adjective to The Cannibal, The Lime Twig, or Second Skin. These early Hawkes’ works revel in a new sensuality of language, sweeping away old outlines of character and narrative. Skin Trade, on the other hand, just tells, rather flatly, a not particularly interesting story about not particularly interesting characters. If you have time on your hands, maybe you’ll want to read it.
Fortunately, when the author left the University of Virginia to embark on a full-time literary career, his first novel was a success, so that we are now treated to his second effort. Although the main character is once again a tough wisecracking P.I. (which is not the most original theme in the world), in Thomas Jefferson’s home town of Charlottesville, Virginia, the author is able nonetheless to build an exciting tale about believable people without being trite; sensuous without being dirty; amusing without being insulting; and a wrenching climax with a wench which alone is worth the price of admission. He may never garner a Nobel, but he perhaps provides a better service by enabling us to preserve our sanity through a few hours of most pleasant diversion. One can only hope that the author will continue to entertain us in this fashion without being seduced by either Hollywood or TV.
“In the sixth century B. C. almost nothing is too strange to be true,” writes Peter Levi by way of his leading character, an archaeologist by the name of Ben Jonson. The same is true of this novel, in which ancient bones and pottery are mixed with violence, murder, love, and wild chases in an unusual pattern. Who would expect a professor of poetry at Oxford to write such a book? But he has, and it is well worth reading.
This is the 14th novel dealing with the exploits of Superintendent Simon Kenworthy, now retired, but called out of retirement by an eccentric millionaire. Perhaps he should have stayed put. And this whole story might just as well have stayed unwritten.
This is the last book of the Avignon Quintet, in the course of which Blanford remarks acutely: “The old stable outlines of the dear old linear novel have been sidestepped in favour of soft focus palimpsest which enables the actors to turn into each other, to melt into each other’s inner lifespace if they wish.” Maybe. He also writes: “Good writing should pullulate with ambiguities.” As usual, Durrell’s writing does. One can only hope that he is not now embarking upon, say, a Salamanca Sextet. It is doubtful if his readers could survive.
The time of the photograph of the three farmers (the frontispiece of this book) is May 1, 1914. The photographer is August Sander. The book is called a novel, and all that is in it is not fact. Nevertheless, this is more a treatise on war, the dance of death, that weaves back and forth between 1914 and the present and manages to bring in, in one way or another, Sarah Bernhardt and Henry Ford as well as assorted soldiers and civilians. Powers sums up his book best when he writes: “There is no way around the memory of the First War, that dance lying just to the right of the photo’s frame. There is only going through it.” That is just what Powers does, thoroughly.
At both state and federal levels, the judiciary is the least visible and the least understood branch of American government. This book goes a long way toward identifying the practical and philosophical problems confronting today’s judges and indicating how they are likely to respond to these challenges. Included are selections from the works of a number of current judicial luminaries, supplemented with incisive essays by the editors, that cover subjects ranging from caseload management to judicial activism. While the book is definitely weighted toward the conservative perspective so in vogue today, the activist counterpoint is adequately presented so that the reader can enjoy a lively dialogue on important issues. For the layman hoping to discern the mindset of the judges whose decisions regularly dot the pages of the daily newspaper, this is a fascinating read.
The dustjacket of this earnest book declares that it “OFFERS A PLAN FOR DRASTIC*FUNDAMENTAL*REFORM.” And so it does. Beginning with scathing analyses of the Iranian hostage-rescue mission and the bungled invasion of microscopic Grenada, Luttwak’s book attacks plenty of cows sacred in the Pentagon: the top-heavy military command structure (the brass surplus), its business-school mentality that makes more of personal career than defense, and our penchant for building weapons (“the materialist bias”) instead of attracting the right people, encouraging ingenuity, and strengthening morale. Luttwak delivers trenchant critiques of the “research merry-go-round” and military preoccupation with budget gaming over strategic planning. Like so many anti-Reagan commentators, Luttwak argues that we should strive to resemble David more than Goliath. The zinger is that Luttwak, a senior fellow at the Georgetown University Center for Strategic Studies and author of a book exposing The Grand Strategy of the Soviet Union, has all the credentials to serve in President George Bush’s Defense Department.
The awesome power of the first atomic blasts at Los Alamos, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki surprised even the men who had devised the bomb and deeply divided them on its meaning and possible uses. Herken, a young California native who earlier published a study of the bomb and the early Cold War, here examines these scientists—the Oppenheimers and Tellers—along with the military strategists, arms-control diplomats, and think-tankers who since that time have conducted the increasingly abstract debate over nuclear “weaponry.” Based on interviews and newly declassified papers, Herken’s book demonstrates plenty of spadework. It also shows convincingly how careerism, personal rivalries, and group-think (Herken cannot go into the power of the arms industry) have contributed to a benumbed acceptance of nuclear stockpiles and even of theoretical American first strikes. One blanches at the report he files and admires the moral energy he takes to the task.
Important as a wake-up call, the fact-heavy volume will provide a starting point for future scholars.
Most of them have little interest in women, they consume enormous quantities of ice cream and Coca Cola, and they play video games in which they destroy worlds. They might be a bunch of reasonably average teenagers, but in fact they are the geniuses of Livermore Laboratory in California, and their chief goal is to play their games with real weapons—ones they themselves design—one day. Of course, the other side has its own mad scientists, so it can be argued that we must match them Strangelove for Strangelove. But it is oh so terrifying to realize what these people are doing.
New York City rose thanks to its endowment of a sheltered harbor and the enterprise of its citizens. After the Second World War it fell, as Roger Starr tells it, when its citizens simultaneously lost confidence in the future and the moral values of the past. Starr recounts the familiar deterioration of the city’s job base and housing stock, along with its transportation, welfare, education, and criminal justice systems. More significant than the technical causes, he finds, is what in discussing crime he terms an “erosion of moral standards.” He charges that the liberal intelligentsia and the formerly conservative clergy together taught uncertainty regarding society’s rights. As a result, society forfeited the right to impose its values on people, families, immigrants, criminals, or deviants. Starr’s book coincides with a widespread sentiment in favor of stricter demands on society’s dependents and more severe punishments of its criminals. But whereas the case for moral renewal is clearly—even starkly—set forth, the road to a renewal of morale is but dimly illuminated in this sombre and pessimistic account.
In this slim essay Reeves argues, on the whole convincingly, that Reagan’s victories do not represent a lasting triumph of conservatism. The welfare state, he says, is so firmly established that not even this immensely popular president can effect major changes. Instead, the Reagan years have seen a redefinition of political values serving as the transition to post-“old liberal” America. Reagan, “a successful president and failed ideologue,” has however reordered political debate in a manner which Democrats, with some “new ideas,” can take advantage of. Reeves’ suggestions, unfortunately, are at least as unoriginal and unappealing as any heard so far.
A global perspective on the ligaments between secondary and advanced education, this garland of essays focuses not only on the passage of students upward through a pyramid of ever more specialized and demanding institutions, but the ways in which the universities and their competitors (as well as political organisms and testing services) influence the ends and means of the schools. Especially valuable are the insights provided into teacher education (in which the U.S. rates dead last). Unfortunately, the volume fails to treat in equal depth the key problem of “articulation, ” namely the degree to which schools specifically prepare students for the actual rigors of university-level work. Recommended reading for all who take our educational crisis seriously.
The neoconservative response to rising crime rates has been to build more prisons and to impose harsher criminal sentences.
But, as the author notes, incarceration is expensive, both in economic and in human terms, and the prison building of the 1970’s has done little to quell crime. Currie calls for a new approach to the problem, one that stresses full employment, family stability, and community solidarity. Well and good, one might say, but isn’t this what the War on Poverty of the 60’s was about? And wasn’t that effort largely a failure? The author, a neoliberal, thinks not, chiefly because early efforts at eliminating economic inequality and racism—two conditions that he contends foster crime—were half-hearted. He calls for a massive infusion of goverment aid to attack these conditions. The obvious drawback to Currie’s proposal is that it would be very expensive, but then so is the yearly cost of keeping a person behind bars, now conservatively estimated to be $15,000 to $20,000.
With the vision of an educator and communications theorist, Neil Postman examines the deeper and broader impact of television culture on the way we conduct our public affairs. He argues that unless we examine and understand the effects of living in a television-bound society, we are in danger of creating a trivial culture that will spawn a race of people who adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. He claims that the dramatic change that television has brought to American culture is difficult to control. It is possible, however to control television’s influence only when the dangers of its techniques are understood and admitted. He suggests that Americans ask “what we are laughing about and why we have stopped thinking.”
This is a remarkable book in the great tradition of other successful nation studies, such as Barzini’s The Italians, Smith’s The Russians, and Butterfield’s China: Alive in the Bitter Sea. We are given a graphic picture of the history of the land and its people, from ancient times to the present. Objectively and yet sentimentally, the author paints an authoritative picture of the politics and the economy, customs and culture, the problems and achievements, sex and family, race and religion, dreams and failures, and all in such a seductive style that one does not realize how much has been learned about the country as one enjoys every page of the volume. Why don’t publishers encourage other qualified authors to write similar fascinating studies for other exotic places on the Greeks, the Turks, the Arabs, the Latins, the Berbers, the Slavs, and so very many more?
There will always be people who will kill people, and adding politics to the equation changes nothing. This fascinating study of political murders from pre-Christian times to the present makes this awful point in unusually lucid fashion. Professor Ford of Harvard has examined a wide variety of such killings and has tried to fit them into a coherent pattern. If he does not wholly succeed, he has nevertheless provided an immensely serviceable basis for discussion.
Another opus from the prolific pen of Mr. Howe purports to explain why democratic socialism has failed to take root in America. His reasons ran