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Notes on Current Books, Summer 1985


ISSUE:  Summer 1985

Readers who relish the novels of I. Compton-Burnett will find their enjoyment heightened by this biography, which explores at length every nook and cranny of her life and background and aligns the pertinent facts with the characters and actions of the novels. The first part, “Ivy When Young, 1884—1919,” was published in 1974.Now “Secrets of a Woman’s Heart, 1920—1969” is added. Twenty novels are no mean life’s work. The first, Dolores, appeared in 1911 and was a failure. The next, Pastors and Masters, was not published until 1925, when she came up out of family and war disasters and began to write in the vein so familiar to her readers. From then on she turned out a book regularly every two years, except during World War II, when it took her three years to complete a work. The last book published during her lifetime was A God and His Gifts in 1963, but two years after her death in 1969 The Last and the First appeared. The first part of Ivy is more interesting than the second, which, to speak plainly, at times is boring and too long drawn out. The two parts taken together, however, add up to a marvelously full and revealing biography. I. Compton-Burnett deserved the best life that could be written, and she has received it.

Rise and Fall, by Milovan Djilas. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $24.95

This last volume of Mr. Djilas’s memoirs adds nothing of substance to our knowledge of the Yugloslav Communist experience. We learn that Mr. Djilas himself was always on the side of the angels, never tormented anyone, and was just waiting to fulfill his great historical mission by writing The New Class—that overpraised statement of the obvious that proved such a boon to Western Cold War warriors. He has never been an attractive figure, and his memoirs do little to enhance his reputation.

Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works, by Charity Cannon Willard. Per sea $19.95

Christine de Pizan was the daughter of a court physician and husband of a court notary, a major literary figure in 15th-century France, and arguably France’s first feminist. Each of these strands of Christine’s life is essential to Willard’s portrait of a mother, an intellectual, and the first biographer of Joan of Arc. Three themes stand out in her work. She excoriates those who advocate and practice the most exploitative kinds of courtly love, and she celebrates the very real contributions of women to civilization. She wrote several works on domestic life and education of a type common during the Renaissance. And she wrote to understand and explain something of the pain and tragedy of human existence. Readers will learn a great deal about Paris during the most tumultuous days of the Hundred Years’ War, about the culture of Renaissance France, and most of all about this unusual and heroic woman.

Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered, by William H. Pritchard. Oxford $15.95

In his introduction Pritchard remarks of Lawrence Thompson’s three-volume biography of Frost: “my feeling was that despite Thompson’s scrupulousness in ascertaining and recording facts about what Frost said and did and wrote, his biographical style made Frost into a particularly unattractive presence, so much at variance with what many who knew him (including myself briefly) remembered of him, that something had perhaps gone amiss.” Pritchard’s own concern in this book was, he wrote: “to identify and describe Frost’s play of mind as it reveals itself in an art which is notable for the amount of felt ‘life’ it contains and in a life which is notably artful, constantly shaped by the extravagant designs of his imagination.” The curious thing is that the picture of Frost which comes through here is just as much that of “a particularly unattractive presence” as he attributes to Thompson’s biography.”To write a literary life of Frost,” Pritchard writes, “is to enter the realm of guesswork.” His guess may be as good as Thompson’s or anyone else’s, but it is certainly no better.

Hegel: The Letters, translated by Clark Butler and Christiane Seiler. Indiana $47.50

The first surprise in this delightful and surprising book is what a lively correspondent Hegel was, whether he is discussing (in refreshingly clear language) a philosophical difference with Fichte or Goethe, his response to political events in France, or the problems of child-rearing. Butler and Seiler divide the 400 letters translated here by period and subject, providing introductions and commentaries which make their collection in effect an intellectual autobiography of a figure whose historical setting we neglect to our peril. For many, their collection will be the best available introduction to Hegel.

A Cloak of Light: Writing My Life, by Wright Morris. Harper & Row $19.95

Wright Morris is one of those American writers who could never be mistaken for anything but what he is—and knows he is—a Midwestern native son who has, as he describes it, “fortunately never lost his faculty for dramatizing his reflections in the vernacular of his experience.” This book takes him through one marriage and into another and explicates his writing and photography. It is called “the concluding volume of his memoirs,” but he isn’t dead yet. No doubt he will continue to write the story of his life and heart.

The Last Romantic: A Biography of Queen Marie of Roumania, by Hannah Pakula. Simon & Schuster $19.95

She was easily the most famous woman of her time—and one of the most beautiful. A granddaughter of both Queen Victoria and Alexander II of Russia, Marie, Princess of Edinburgh, married King Ferdinand of Roumania and went off to what was supposed to be comfortable obscurity in the Balkans. She was having none of that. A liberated woman in an era that jailed such types, she made quite an impact upon European history and captivated a generation. Hannah Pakula has told this fascinating story admirably.

Dashiell Hammett, by Julian Symons. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $24.95

Not quite so great a writer as cult-making admirers believe him to be, but a far better author than those who write off detective stories suppose, Dashiell Hammett is still the subject of much interest, his books widely read. This breezy biography is an introduction to his life and work, buoyed up by dozens of photographs of Hammett with movie stars and of the covers of Hammett’s books. The familiar story of his career as detective and then as esteemed author and finally of his decline is retold with the appropriate references to Hammett’s relations with Lillian Hellman, to his politics, and to his pathetic end.

Unquiet Souls, by Angela Lambert. Harper & Row $19.95

Fortunately, Angela Lambert has provided a list of the main characters in this account of men and women of high rank, wealth, and power in England from the 1880’s to the First World War, to the coming of which they unwittingly contributed far too much. She has divided them into the Souls, including the Asquiths, Balfour, Curzon, the Tennants, Wyndhams, etc., and their children, the Coterie. Most of the young men in this latter group, except Duff Cooper, were killed in the war. Lambert begins by describing a dinner party given in 1889 by George Curzon, about to set off on extensive travels. Forty Souls, then called the Gang, were present, and Curzon wrote for the occasion a set of verses mentioning each of his guests by name and nature. If you should judge this assemblage by the character of this appalling versifying, you might wonder about the quality and nature of the class that ruled England. From start to finish Lambert does nothing to dispel this questioning. She has drawn on many available diaries, autobiographies, and letters and has produced a scathing indictment of the Souls and all their works and actions, both political and social. You might call this book historical gossip, but who does not love gossip, especially when a touch of scandal is included. The book as a whole is fascinating, even at its most appalling.

The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. 24: May 1 through September 30,1977, edited by William B.Willcox et al.Yale $55

This is the second volume covering Franklin’s years in France, and it continues to reveal the heavy burden of his responsibilities there. It also suggests the limited options facing the Americans during the summer of 1777.As the editors make clear, Franklin’s surviving correspondence does not accurately reveal the diplomatic story, and those who use it should consult other sources for a more complete picture. Though the editors have been forced to become increasingly selective in the documents they print, they present an impressive representative sample of Franklin’s central role in the effort to obtain French recognition of the new nation while also revealing his personal shortcomings.

Kapitza, Rutherford, and the Kremlin, by Lawrence Badash. Yale $20

Mr. Badash should have been content to publish Peter Kapitsa’s letters to Lord Rutherford in an obscure scholarly journal. There is just not enough here to fill a book, even a short one. When Kapitsa (whose name Badash perversely misspells) was detained in his native Russia in 1934, Rutherford and other Western scientists tried to obtain his release—but they dared not push too hard. Eventually the young scientist made his peace with the regime and performed outstanding scientific work. This is an interesting minor story.

Kenneth Clark: A Biography, by Meryle Secrest. Holt, Rinehart & Winston $18.95

To some Kenneth Clark was “one of the most charming men I’ve ever met.” To others he was a whimsical and unpredictable tyrant. He had great successes: director of the National Gallery at 30; in his 60’s writing and narrating Civilisation, that marvelous running account of art and man. He also had great sorrows and surmounted them with grace and dignity. Meryle Secrest has ferreted out and made the most of Clark’s ups and downs. Perhaps some readers may wish that she had not emphasized some of his unhappinesses and weaknesses. Nevertheless, here they all are, out in print together with the strengths and happinesses that are more important.

HISTORYCrucible of Reconstruction: War, Radicalism and Race in Louisiana, 1862—1877, by Ted Tunnell. Louisiana $25

The 1960’s saw the history of Reconstruction revised; now it appears that the 1980’s will see the revisionists revised. Ted Tunnell is the latest to locate the origins of the failure of Reconstruction among Republican carpetbaggers, freedmen, and scalawags as well as among the white Democrats who fought them so fiercely. Though the book gets off to a slow start, it finishes with impressive analyses of Reconstruction at high tide in a state divided almost evenly between black and white. Tunnell’s sympathetic but balanced judgment of white leaders adds a new degree of sophistication to a heavily studied topic. His final chapter, a narrative account of one white Vermont carpetbagger’s struggles in a remote Louisiana county, brings the desperation of those years alive in a way few accounts have managed. This book makes modest claims, but its findings have implications far beyond the borders of Louisiana.

The Protestant Reformation: 1517—1559, by Lewis W.Spitz. Harper & Row $22.95

This narrative is a comprehensive, balanced, and well-written account of the Protestant Reformation. Moreover, several aspects of Lewis Spitz’ work set this effort above the garden-variety, competent onevolume survey. First, while Spitz narrates, he also evaluates critically. For example, it is often argued that the English Reformation was merely an act of state or a highlevel institutional reorganization. Spitz indicates the degree to which there was something approaching grass-roots support for reform. Second, Spitz does not end his story with the latter reformers. He also treats the Roman Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation. To his credit, he treats the breadth of the Catholic response and not simply those responses known as the Counter-Reformation. Finally, he does a credible job placing this religious ferment in the appropriate social and cultural context. He also pays welcome attention to the roles of Russia and the Ottoman Empire.

Ideology and Revolution in Modern Europe: An Essay on the Role of Ideas in History, by Trygve R.Tholfsen. Columbia $30

Vigorously arguing, in effect, that consciousness determines being, rather than the other way around, Tholfsen insists that the modern world has tended to sell ideas short. He does not deny the effect of industrialization and modernization upon revolutionary movements, but he makes a good case for linking those phenomena to the intellectual revolution which began generations earlier. A thoughtful analyst and a good writer, Tholfsen has made an important contribution to intellectual history.

Awkward Dominion: American Political, Economic, and Cultural Relations with Europe, 1919—1933, by Frank Costigliola. Cornell $27.50

Although their experiences in World War I convinced many Americans that political and military entanglements with the nations of Europe should be avoided, the business community was not so wary of expanding into international markets. Manufacturers and financiers profited from increased trade with the Allies during the war and realized that their position could be enhanced in a fiscally and politically stable Europe. The Republican administrations of the 1920’s worked to facilitate stabilization by orchestrating policies of reduced war reparations, debt restructurings, disarmament, and a return to the gold standard. Professor Costigliola has done a first-class study of international fiscal relations during the post World War I period. Spotlighting the roles played by American businessmen, he reveals how they planned to revitalize Europe through carrot and stick-type economic inducements. When American loans dried up in the late 20’s, however, European economies stagnated, thereby undermining Wall Street’s influence and hastening the Depression in the United States.

The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army, 1948—1983: Uncertain Allegiance,by Condoleezza Rice. Princeton $37.50

Beneath an unusually thick layer of political science jargon, one can find in Professor Rice’s book some interesting information about the role of satellite nations’ armies in the Soviet system. The Soviet dilemma is a major one: the arming of millions of Czech, Polish, East German, Hungarian, and Bulgarian soldiers does not necessarily increase the security of the U.S.S.R.In 1968 the Czechoslovak Army proved wholly unreliable from Moscow’s point of view, and there is evidence that the situation has not improved.

Hegel, Heidegger, and the Ground of History, by Michael A.Gillespie. Chicago $22

Defining, explaining, or measuring history is ultimately to define, explain, and measure time: it cannot be done. The philosophers and historians can only indicate how other human beings have attacked the insoluble problem. Professor Gillespie of Duke examines the systems of Hegel and Heidegger in his search for a solution to the dilemma; and although his conclusions are a shade too comprehensive, he takes us on an interesting journey.

An Encyclopaedia of Napoleon’s Europe, by Alan Palmer. St. Martin’s $22.95

Intended for the history buff rather than the serious scholar, this compendium of Napoleoniana is moderately useful and passably entertaining. Palmer is not known for either sophistication or a sense of humor, both rather necessary for the historian; but he has assembled a fair amount of information and has cross-references that make it simple enough to locate.

Workers and the Right in Spain, 1900— 1936, by Colin M.Winston. Princeton $35

This is a detailed study of the Catholic Right in Spain and its relation to the nascent workers’ movements in the first third of the 20th century. Winston focuses on industrial Catalonia in order to analyze the gap which existed between the proposals for social reform advanced by the church and the inability of the church to translate those proposals into action. Their failure resulted from their inability to mobilize the urban working class, a class “not bewitched by anarchism or infantile revolutionism but above all concerned with practical economic benefits.”

Effects of World War I: War Communism in Hungary, by György Péteri. Columbia $25

The term “war communism” is usually associated with Lenin’s disastrous policies of 1918—1921 in Russia, but the same kind of experiment was played out in Hungary too. Béla Kun and the Hungarian Communists overthrew the postwar regime and tried to establish a new society overnight. Changing the habits and assumptions of centuries, however, proved a difficult task—too difficult for the Kun regime, which promptly collapsed. This is a sound book on a neglected topic.

America’s Business, by James Oliver Robertson. Hill & Wang $17.95

Americans have always been interested in making that extra buck, getting ahead, and chasing the elusive goal of financial independence. Calvin Coolidge’s adage that “the business of America is business” accurately characterizes our society’s values from colonial times to the 1920’s to the present. Professor Robertson takes the reader on a journey through America’s business past, punctuating his story with biographical sketches of John Jacob Astor, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, and other financial titans. The author captures a feeling of change over time, as the country evolved from a mere mercantile colony to become the linchpin in a global market system. His book is an overview of business history that will be of most value to the reader seeking a general introduction to our nation’s financial development.

France, Russia and the Coming of the First World War, The Fateful Alliance, by George F.Kennan. Pantheon Books $19.95

Kennan’s account of the origins and causes of World War I is distressingly current: an uncontrolled arms race, the single-mindedness of a rising military profession, nationalism’s drive for total victory, and the inability of leaders to think in terms of national interests that might have been accommodated. A tragic story full of anguish and clear lessons for the present and the diplomatic world of the main actors, Russia and France.

From Working Girl to Working Mother: The Female Labor Force in the United States, 1820—1980, by Lynn Y.Weiner. North Carolina $17.95

As certain categories of white, middle-class women entered the American work force, their presence evoked different critical responses. At the turn of the 20th century, when large numbers of single women first took jobs outside the home, many saw this phenomenon as a threat to the physical and moral well-being of the nation’s future mothers. With the emergence of the working mother in the post-World War II period, the concern has shifted to the protection of children, who many fear have been deprived of basic parental care. Professor Weiner has done a nice job of linking these societal reactions to the sharp demographic changes that have occured at these times. While this short book is not the sweeping panorama of women’s labor history that the title leads the reader to expect—for instance, the early 19th century and the World War II years receive little consideration— Weiner’s treatment of the Progressive Era and present day feminist issues makes this study an important historical contribution.

The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History, by Nicholas V.Riasanovsky. Oxford $29.95

No ruler had a more profound, lasting impact upon Russia than Peter the Great, and in this engaging study Professor Riasanovsky shows us why. Curiously unwilling and perhaps unable to carve out a third way between East and West, Russia vacillated, still vacillates. For all his own infatuation with the West, Peter remained mired—some would insist upon “rooted” —in the East. He never knew himself, and his Russia still seeks her soul. Highly recommended.

Provisioning Paris, by Steven L. Kaplan. Cornell $39.95

Provisioning Paris provides a detailed but highly readable account of the supply of grain and flour to Paris in the 18th century. The study has appeal for a diverse readership—historians of the ancien régime, students of agriculture, and political economists will discover useful material. Especially applicable to present day development theory is Kaplan’s interweaving of the political consequences of agricultural provisioning with the economic problems of subsistence market-based farming.

LITERARY STUDIESGenius of Place: William Faulkner’s Triumphant Beginnings, by Max Putzel. Louisiana $32.50 cloth, $14.95 paper

Faulkner’s rapid development from lousy poet to brilliant novelist is a puzzle that has provoked several book-length attempts at solution. No one has written a more thorough study than Putzel. He studies the biography, the poetry, the short stories, and the early drafts of novels, coming to a full and convincing view of Faulkner’s concept of Yoknapatawpha as a place. Putzel’s scholarship is impressive; he uses foreign criticism as well as any recent Faulkner critic, and has tracked down every lead. A book so ambitious is bound to have some flaws—Putzel’s study is a tad overwritten, his attempt to explain Faulkner’s early sexual life Byzantine (he argues for several years of celibacy), and his view of As I Lay Dying, though correct in pointing out the humor of the Bundren saga, argues for this hellish novel as an “affirmation of life.”

Themes of Peace in Renaissance Poetry, by James Hutton, edited by Rita Guerlac. Cornell $37.50

The late professor Hutton’s book offers a splendid, thorough treatment of a crucial though often neglected topic. Amid the shattered social and religious institutions of the 16th century, the concept of peace came to seem almost poignantly tenuous; the age’s artists and thinkers, as a result sought respite in various notions of peace generating especially from the classical cultures they so admired. The volume’s component essays map out these changing views and reactions, discoursing impressively on various continental texts in the process. With the help of Guerlac’s loving editorial care, Themes of Peace emerges as an invaluable contribution to the study of Renaissance intellectual history.

The Re-creation of Landscape: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Constable, and Turner, by James A.W.Heffernan. New England $25

Readers and theorists of Romanticism will probably welcome this book; students of the poetry and art of earlier centuries will be justly skeptical. The test of any purported account of the originality of Romantic aesthetics is the extent to which it defines that orginality by caricaturing the views and practices of the century before. For Heffernan, the Augustans murdered landscape by dissecting it; they failed to join analytic appreciation with wonder; by “imitation,” they meant simulation; they never joined together the categories of time and space. In all this Heffernan does not really proceed beyond the conceptual approach of M.H.Abrams, to whose Mirror and Lamp he is deeply indebted; like Abram’s book, Heffernan’s is a mine of useful information and quotation, but like it too, The Re-creation of Landscape is an outdated map of a terrain still waiting to be accurately charted.

Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons: Literary Authority in American Fiction, by Herschel Parker. Northwestern $19.95

Although Parker has a tendency to toot his own horn (to the extent that it occasionally becomes a sousaphone), his work on the complex textual history of several classics of American fiction is undeniably important. This book chronicles that work, and makes a strong case for reversal of the present literary critical hierarchy. Parker shows that we must first ascertain exactly what a writer wrote before we criticize or theorize. His conclusion fits his commonsense notions neatly into the context of recent theory about “authorial intentionality” (his own coinage but still an awful phrase).

The Living Lyre in English Verse from Elizabeth through the Restoration, by Louise Schleiner. Missouri $23

Beginning from Boris Eichenbaum’s triadic division of lyrics into the modes of song, declamation, and conversation, Schleiner traces the joint history of English lyric and musical settings from 1580 to 1690, showing how the formal demands and implied values of each informed and changed the other. Her book contains no grand thesis about the nature and direction of this history but comprises instead a series of elegant and highly informative readings of poems in their musical settings. The Living Lyre demands little previous musical knowledge, but for those who cannot read a simple melody line, the pleasure of reading Schleiner’s enlightening accounts of familiar lyrics by Shakespeare, Donne, and Cowley is much increased by the proximity of a piano.

The Innocent Eye: On Modern Literature and the Arts, by Roger Shattuck. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $18.95

At its best, Roger Shattuck’s writing has always combined elegance with an ease that sometimes approaches the conversational. Inversely, it can be erudite without ever introducing the dull thud of pedantry. Call these high standards, but the essays collected in The Innocent Eye exhibit an enormous diversity of style without ever falling from them. Ranging from the serious, investigative history of “Having Congress: the Shame of the Thirties” to the whimsical mock-encyclopedia entry of “What is Pataphysics?”, these essays present Shattuck doing many of the things he does best. They provide as well a broad examination of the relation between the verbal and the visual arts that is both thought-provoking and satisfying.

The Lords of Limit: Essays on Literature and Ideas, by Geoffrey Hill. Oxford $8.95 paper

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has read one or more of these essays, published over the last 25 years, that Geoffrey Hill is not merely one of the most interesting, of contemporary poets, but an extraordinarily accomplished critic. His special concern is the manifold ways in which linguistic formulations are born of and animate forms of thought and forms of life, a concern to which he brings philosophic as well as literary sophistication. The essays here treat Shakespeare, Jonson, and Swift with the same sureness as they approach Pound, Ransom, and even T.H. Green.

The Skeptic Disposition in Contemporary Criticism, by Eugene Goodheart. Princeton $22.50

This restrained, clearly written study begins with focus on the criticism of Matthew Arnold and its theological and social implications. The author traces the recent drift away from the theological approach of Arnold to the more skeptical tendencies of criticism, embodied especially in deconstruction. Focusing on such post-structuralists as Barthes and Derrida, he suggestively asserts that recent skeptical criticism is a form of anti-theology. Because his thesis is so compelling, the reader is disappointed that the argument is never fully developed, its implications not pursued. The knowledge of deconstruction, we are told, is that “we can have no real knowledge.” Precisely because deconstruction “is monotonously repetitious in its results,” one senses that the rage for it will pass, but in the meanwhile we can be grateful for this thoughtful study of the latest intellectual fashion.

Originality and Imagination, by Thomas McFarland. Johns Hopkins $22.50

Taken together, the five essays and talks written over the last ten years and here collected argue that since the mid-18th century the terms originality and imagination have taken over both the value connotations and the philosophical functions once reserved for the soul. Perhaps the only wholly new element in McFarland’s argument is his tracing of Coleridge’s triad of primary imagination, secondary imagination, and fancy to the great German psychologist Tetens, yet throughout McFarland treats difficult critical matters with grace, insight, and even wit (especially in a parody of Harold Bloom’s unwieldy jargon of “revisionary ratios”). He is least successful on the edges of his enterprise, in straight philosophical exposition and straight interpretation of poems; but in the territory between these boundaries, McFarland’s work is essential.

The Puritans in America: A Narrative Anthology, edited by Alan Heimert and Andrew Delbanco. Harvard $25

This major new anthology of Puritan writings reflects the current historiographical drift away from Perry Miller’s version of a monolithic New England mind. The editors protest, and no doubt rightly so, that their book is no replacement for The Puritans, Miller and Johnson’s seminal anthology of the 1930’s. But they do place a special emphasis on dissent in 17th-century New England, a phenomenon that their predecessors largely overlooked. By presenting Puritan sermons, reminiscences, poetry, and other writings in a chronological fashion, Heimert and Delbanco have captured the spirit of a vibrant New England, experiencing social, religious, and economic change. The editors’ brief introductions to many of the selections make this volume especially attractive to students of Puritan history and literature.

Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Columbia $22.50

Eve Sedgwick has this to say about Gone with the Wind: “if forcible sex ever did occur between a Black male and female character in this world, the sexual event itself would have no signifying power, since Black sexuality ‘means’ here only as a grammatic transformation of a sentence whose true implicit subject and object are white.” One can just hear Rhett Butler saying: “Frankly, scholar, I don’t give a damn.” And he would have a point. The baroque jargon of semiotics and post-structuralism is bad enough when applied to literature. But when this abstract and attenuated vocabulary begins to be applied to the real world, when someone seriously speaks of rape in terms of “grammatic transformation,” we understand why the profession of literary criticism is becoming a laughingstock in the popular press. Between Men does have its good moments; some of the observations on individual texts are sound and reveal aspects of the works hitherto ignored. In some ways, Sedgwick is carrying on the pioneering work of René Girard on patterns of triangular desire in the novel (though she seems to be ignorant of Girard’s most recent work and does not do justice to the power of his ideas). Yet Sedgwick’s readings of the works she discusses are so weighted down with intellectual baggage that they inevitably collapse under the burden. Sedgwick manages to combine just about every form of intellectual trendiness in vogue today: Marxism, feminism, psychoanalysis, and deconstruction, all in the service of gay liberation. If only Sedgwick had called the book The Dialogue between Men, she could have worked Bakhtin into her argument and thus have circumnavigated the intellectual globe.

FICTIONA Piece of Earth, by Kenny Marotta. Morrow $14.95

Two eccentric Italian-American families, the Buonfiglios and the Zammataros, dominate the action in Marotta’s zany novel. The piece of earth not only literally refers to a cemetery plot the Buonfiglio family owns but also symbolically conveys the motivating impulse of his characters: to possess something, whether money, people, or land. The ill-fated romance of Mike Buonfiglio and Agnes Zammataro serves as the novel’s central action and keeps the plot moving. But Marotta twists the traditional romantic formula: instead of boy winning girl, Agnes wins Mike. That Agnes, the most educated of Marotta’s Depression-era characters, even tries is a testament to her fortitude. An early scene may illustrate the type of feelings that motivate Marotta’s characters. Antonia, the eldest member of the Buonfiglio family, gets into a fight with her daughter Madge. Why? Because Antonia doesn’t have a space in the family’s cemetery plot. Rather than give Antonia her space or buy one for her, Madge blames her mother for their dilemma. Antonia’s response, a coughing fit, only provokes Madge to observe: “I wouldn’t be surprised if she killed herself to prove she’s sick.” By skillfully combining his ability to depict human folly and present humorous dialogue, Marotta produces a first-rate comic novel.

Scandal, or Priscilla’s Kindness, by A, N. Wilson. Viking $15.95

Having left a promising academic career at Oxford, A.N.Wilson has embarked upon a career as a man of letters in the great English tradition. Critics have begun to compare him to Evelyn Waugh and Kingsley Amis. Still in his early thirties, Wilson already has ten books to his credit, ranging from biographies of John Milton and Hilaire Belloc to a remarkable series of comic novels. Scandal is a worthy successor to Wilson’s last novel, Wise Virgin.It deals with a peculiarly British institution: the political sex scandal. In this case, the story involves a simple prostitute, the cabinet minister she “entertains,” the ex-patriot Russian dancer she marries, and an affair between the minister’s wife Priscilla and an opportunistic journalist. The subject is timely, and indeed one wonders why no one hit upon this idea for a novel earlier. Wilson carries it off brilliantly, with the deft comic touch only the best of English humorists are able to muster.

The Tree of Hands, by Ruth Rendell. Pantheon $13.95

Ruth Rendell has grown from a good writer of detective fiction into a really excellent novelist. This book is probably her best yet; the plot is fast-moving and totally believable, and the characters real and well-drawn. It’s a difficult book to put down. It’s rare to find a suspense novel that also has really interesting, three-dimensional characters; most books of this type dwell either on character or plot, but The Tree of Hands provides both. The London setting is well done, and the unspoken commentary on the life styles of some of today’s youth adds a extra dimension. A really fine book.

Fine, by Samuel Shem.St. Martin’s $15.95

Dr. Shem may be one of the most rare of all creatures, a physician who can laugh at the madness of professional life. In his first novel, The House of God, Shem fell back on his experience as physician-in-training to poke fictional but sometimes caustic fun at life within hospital walls and the incongruities of medical education. This second novel takes the story of a doctor to the postdoctoral level. Protagonist Dr. Fine (who never uses a first name, and who, like Shem, is a psychiatrist) fairly bounces through this book. Part of his bounce comes from obesity, another part from the unconquerable confidence his life has nourished—from child prodigy, to Harvard College and Med School, to budding psychoanalyst. After seven years of psychoanalysis, he finally discovers that he is simply a jerk. Shem attempts to bring some seriousness to bear on this self-discovery, but don’t read the book for that. Read it for the laughs.

Death of an Honourable Member, by Ray Harrison. Scribner’s $11.95

You are told that this story is set “near the turn of the [19th] century,” but apart from a few descriptive touches you would never know it. The style is not turn of the century but merely flat and trite. The action could take place at any time—and at any time would be equally unconvincing. So one hopes that Detective-Sergeant Joseph Bragg and his upper-class colleague James Morton are not destined to appear too often in the future.

Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns. Ticknor & Fields $16.95

This is an exceptionally funny, yet touching story. Set in Sassy Tree, a Georgia backcountry community, the novel tells of a young boy’s coming of age at the turn of the 20th century. Fourteen-year-old Will Tweedy, the book’s narrator, is a character cast in the mold of a Tom Sawyer or a Huck Finn. He has a knack for concocting pranks that predictably earn him the sting of his father’s strap. But the main story line centers on Will’s grandfather, Sassy Tree’s wealthiest and most eccentric citizen. When he marries a beautiful young woman only three weeks after the death of Will’s grandmother, he incurs the criticism of the small minds in a small town. Will Tweedy presents the details of the scandal in an innocent, pleasantly down-home fashion. Cold Sassy Tree is a distinctively Southern novel, portraying the lighter side of life among the po’ white folk in the region.

Hotel Du Lac, by Anita Brookner. Pantheon $13.95

Winner of the 1984 Booker Prize, this novel has been justly acclaimed, for it is a beautiful, tender, and witty story. Exquisitely wrought in a prose that is carefully chiseled and finely nuanced, Brookner’s tale descends from the tradition of Jane Austen, and can be likened to the recent fiction of Barbara Pym, especially The Sweet Dove Died.But if there is great pathos in Brookner’s novel, there is less bitterness and bleakness than that which beclouds Pym’s brittle universe. The author shows great sympathy for her characters no matter how absurd or deficient they may be. And this—along with her superior prose style—is one of her greatest strengths.

The Life of the Party, by Maureen Freely. Simon if Schuster $17.95

In her first novel, Mother’s Helper, Maureen Freely drew upon her broad experience with academic life. She was educated at Harvard University, where she majored in the English Option II program (English with a foreign literature), earning high honors for her senior thesis on the poetry of Rilke and Jorge Guillen. Now married and living in Oxford, England, Freely has seen academic life from both sides of the Atlantic, But her experience is even broader and more cosmopolitan than that. In her second novel, The Life of the Party, Freely continues to deal with academic types, but also draws upon the scene of her childhood, the foreign community in Turkey. The results, it should be noted, are by no means academic, indeed far from it. She displays a marvelous comic touch in creating her own version of the old story of East meets West.

Flaubert’s Parrot, by Julian Barnes. Knopf $13.95

This ingenious, lively, witty, and exceptionally entertaining novel is ostensibly the story of Geoffrey Braithwaite, an English physician and amateur of Flaubert, who investigates the art and life of the great French novelist. Imagine a book informed by the compulsiveness of Eric Ambler’s A Coffin for Dimitrios, the artifice of Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and the historical masquerade of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando all blended into something very special, and you will have some idea of what Barnes’ little masterpiece is like. Flaubert haunts every word and page of this often very funny and also very poignant meditation on art, love, history, and life.

Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen, by Fay Weldon. Taplinger $14.95

What do Jane Austen and “Alice,” a punk-rock college kid who dyes her hair black and green, have in common? Nothing, except Fay Weldon, a writer of sorts, who made the television screen play of Pride and Prejudice and who has invented a niece Alice as a means for writing about Austen from her painful early death, which begins and ends this epistolary account of her life, back to the beginning and through her family and writing career. Weldon rather fancies herself and her imagination and gives free rein to the latter in quite a brisk and modern fashion. Some interesting facts and details are thrown in, but most can easily be found elsewhere without subjecting yourself to Weldon’s brittle and know-it-all style.

Small World, by David Lodge. Macmillan $15.95

If academic life were really like this, it is a toss-up whether or not people would rush toward it pell-mell. Lodge’s book is funny. His characters, their lives, and their schools and conferences are exaggerated, but they hold their grain of truth. If the secret of caricature is verisimilitude, David Lodge wins here hands down.

A Reputation Dies, by Alice Chetwynd Ley.St. Martin’s $10.95

The back flap of the jacket describes this book as “an utterly captivating combination of romance and detective fiction.” The detective fiction is wooden and very badly plotted. The setting (the London season of 1816) is badly faked. The language, supposedly of the time, is even worse. Actually, if the author had a reputation, it dies in this book.

Annie John, by Jamaica Kincaid. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $11.95

Following the author’s first collection, At the Bottom of the River (1983), Jamaica Kincaid continues her fascinating account of the struggle from girlhood to adolescence in Antigua, West Indies, where she grew up. These are wonderful stories, told with a disarming simplicity and sharp, clear images. She conveys the atmosphere of the Caribbean islands with colorful, haunting details. In the stories, all of which originally appeared in The New Yorker, we relive the experiences familiar to many of us: the joy of having a secret friend, the terror of a teacher telling parents about misdeeds at school, seeing a dead person for the first time, glimpses of sexuality, winning admiration for an essay. Ms. Kincaid portrays the unique intensity of the mother-daughter relationship as few have ever done, and she has preserved the child’s-eye view intact, capturing all the rebelliousness and ambivalence of feelings toward parents, friends, puberty, and leaving home. Poignant, sensual, exotic, these narratives linger in the mind. At the end of the book, when Annie finally boards ship for nursing school in England, the reader can only hope there is more of this marvelous writing forthcoming.

The Lonely Silver Rain, by John D. MacDonald. Knopf $15.95

When Travis McGee stumbles across the grisly residue of some drug deal gone wrong in Florida, he quickly comes to realize that he should have stayed on his houseboat. Not just one but several gangs of dealers decide he knows too much, and suddenly his life comes to resemble a sort of carnival prize: control of the Mexican traffic to the gang that takes it. John D. MacDonald has been eclipsed of late by Elmore Leonard; but he can still tell a good story, and this is one of his better ones.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSRethinking the Soviet Experience: Politics and History since 1917, by Stephen F. Cohen. Oxford $17.95

Many of the things Professor Cohen says in this book needed saying long ago. The consensus among Soviet specialists was clearly artificial and in some important respects even coerced. The old guard of OSS-CIA-State Department had far too much influence in the field, as did the emigres. The Soviet experience has been far more diverse than these people would have us believe, and it is to Cohen’s credit that he smites what he calls the “totalitarianism school.” This is an unusually valuable book.

Touring Nam; The Vietnam War Reader, edited by Martin H.Greenberg and Augustus Richard Norton. Morrow $16.95

The volume of Vietnam-War literature grows and grows. If each book were a sandbag, you could almost build a bunker. But think of being inside. Greenberg, an anthologist, and Norton, a military man, have collected 26 stories veterans have written about our experience on those troubled shores. They do not include all the best things that have appeared on Vietnam, though Kent Anderson’s “Sympathy for the Devil” must be a masterpiece. Perhaps only Tim O’Brien has achieved name-recognition. But all these memoirs and sketches forcefully, pungently, recount our arrogance, our ignorance, and thereby help to explain our dismal failure in that war. The stories tell of pain and horror inflicted with vague good intentions, when (and where) good intentions simply weren’t enough.

The Recovery of Political Theory: Limits and Possibilities, by William C.Havard. Louisiana $22.50

The 11 essays collected in this aptly titled volume reveal the predicament in which contemporary social science finds itself. By insisting that social science be “value-free,” behavioral scientists can offer no valid reason for the pursuit of science and restrict their conception of what is politically relevant to the most superficial manifestations of political experience. The way out of this pedicament, as Havard shows in two chapters on the political theory of Eric Voegelin, requires a reexamination of the philosophical roots which gave rise to modern social science. Ultimately this means that classical and Christian conceptions of man, society, nature, and God be taken with utmost seriousness as a truer account of reality. The great merit of this book is that it engenders precisely that attitude.

Too Secret Too Long, by Chapman Pincher. St. Martin’s $’19.95

Mr. Pincher, who has no small idea of his own importance to world peace and Western security, has deputized himself a oneman hanging jury. In nearly 600 pages of turgid prose, he tells us that Roger Hillis, former head of MI5 (roughly the equivalent of the FBI), was a Soviet agent. He may, of course, be right; Hollis was investigated several times toward the end of his career. But any fair-minded judge would have to dismiss Mr. Pincher’s case as flawed both in concept and execution. We see only what strengthens his argument, and we are asked to believe that several British Prime Ministers were in on a gigantic cover-up.

Shah of Shahs, by Ryszard Kapuscinski. Translated by William R.Brand and Katarzyna Mroczkowska-Brand. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $12.95

Powerful and penetrating, Shah of Shahs is a modest attempt to understand the Islamic revolution in Iran, Why did the Shah fail to persuade his people that Iran could become another America in a generation? Why did the revolution succeed in a country where poverty and oppression have always existed side by side? Kapuscinski’s reconstructed images identify the kind of authority that the Shah enjoyed and how its abuse turned into provocation. Yet his perceptions of the revolution anticipate more abuses until the next provocation. For the Polish journalist, Iranians, like many other peoples in the world, are helpless against generic tyranny. A major contribution.

Areas of Challenge for Soviet Foreign Policy in the 1980s, by Gerrit W.Gong, Angela E.Stent, and Rebecca. V.Strode. Indiana $20 cloth, $7.95 paper

There is not too much to debate about what the authors report: the Soviets are indeed going to face the great issues of China, the West, disarmament, and the world economy in the 1980’s. Since they are already confronting precisely those problems, and have been for decades, it is difficult to understand the rationale behind this book. The authors have dutifully read some very good sources, and they dutifully come to some profoundly commonplace conclusions.

The Rise and Decline of Western Liberalism, by Anthony Arblaster. Basil Blackwell $34.95

Tolerance, privacy, progress, freedom, individualism. These are a few of the keystone values of the intellectual current that is commonly referred to as liberalism. Today’s political climate identifies the liberals with “soft” values: caring for the aged and poor more than pragmatism and efficiency; valuing life over property; advocating what could be rather than tending to what is. British political theorist Anthony Arblaster argues in this book that it has not always been so. From the stern rationalism of Bentham and Locke to the cold-blooded harshness of Thomas Malthus, the liberal temper has, as often as not, allied itself with anything but a soft-minded perspective. This volume offers both a history and a critique of liberal thought, with special attention to the practical consequences of applying liberal values with rigor. While it does not provide an exhaustive intellectual history of the notion of liberalism, it is a valuable reference text in which to locate major figures and to track their use of “liberal” notions.

Cop World: Inside an American Police Force, by James McClure. Pantheon $16.95

Sometimes foreigners do a very good job of telling us what we are like, but McClure is not blessed with the gift that makes that possible. A South African journalist, he here tries to describe the San Diego police force, and he fails. He is merely boring when he describes the drudgery of law enforcement work, unconvincing when he delves into the excitement. He does not understand American racial politics. And worst of all, he mangles the English language.

The Personal President: Power Invested, Promise Unfulfilled, by Theodore J.Lowi. Cornell $19.95

The abiding strength of this book will be found in its diagnosis, Lowi clearly perceives and describes the potentially disastrous mismatch between the expectations of both the public and the government regarding presidential leadership and the current realities of presidential power. Though Lowi occasionally lapses into some irritating simplifications, he provides the reader with a complex and rich picture of the forces that make the contemporary presidency an excessively democratic institution and a dangerously personal office.

The Federal Courts: Crisis and Reform, by Richard A.Posner. Harvard $25

Judge Posner’s study of the federal courts has a familiar ring, one that has been sounded repeatedly over the last century: federal court caseloads are too high, judicial salaries are too low, and the system is on the verge of a breakdown. While the author, a U.S.Court of Appeals judge, does not believe that institutional collapse is imminent, he argues that the effect of these problems is already being felt, especially in the diluted quality of written judicial opinions, Posner’s proposed remedies to the crisis include higher court fees, limited federal court review of state criminal convictions, and judicial restraint. He recognizes, however, that there are no panaceas and that reform will be a complex process. His book ends with a challenge to our law schools to recognize and address the workaday problems of our legal institutions, a responsibility that legal education has neglected sorely.

Warriors of the Night: Spies, Soldiers and American Intelligence, by Ernest Volkman. Morrow $17.95

None other than Bob Guccione of Penthouse was one of the “angels” behind this book, so we have a pretty fair notion of its level going in. The Guccione-Volman school of research seems to involve a casual perusal of some newspapers, constant reiteration of the Pledge of Allegiance, and an invocation of divine protection upon the U.S.A.This is a compendium of sheer drivel sometimes punctuated by wild rumor. How a reputable publisher could issue it is beyond understanding.

The Liberal Crack-Up, by Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. Simon & Schuster $16.95

From the editor of The American Spectator, a book whose premise is that tolerance taken to the extreme ends only in an intolerance for everything resembling thought. Or alternatively, that liberal thought (an oxymoron for Tyrrell) has in fact become so illiberal, so unthoughtful, that one need not engage in the long and arduous work of subversion in the style of, say, William F.Buckley’s Up From Liberalism; merely quoting the New Age cackelocutionists will do that work for you. In a time when walking on eggshells has become the high art of not walking at all, Tyrrell stomps, often persuasively, always eloquently.

The Iconoclast as Reformer: Jerome Frank’s Impact on American Law, by Robert Jerome Glennon. Cornell $24.95

Jerome Frank was one of the most influential and controversial members of the American bar in the mid-20th century. A legal philosopher, New Deal lawyer, and federal appeals court judge, Frank is best remembered for his association with the Legal Realism movement. His Law and the Modern Mind, a Freudian analysis of the role of law and the judge in American society, attacked the notion that judges follow formal legal rules in decision-making. Frank believed that judges manipulate legal maxims to achieve preconceived results. Unfortunately, Professor Glennon’s short book adds little to our understanding of Frank’s philosophy or of his complex personality. The sections on Legal Realism rehash materials found in earlier studies, and an overblown analysis of Frank’s judicial opinions is only mildly enlightening. What made Frank such an interesting character was his faith in psychoanalysis and his use of psychological metaphors in his writin

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