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Notes on Current Books, Autumn 1977

ISSUE:  Autumn 1977

If Earl Warren had accomplished nothing more during his 16-year tenure than to unite all of his feuding brethren from one end of the political spectrum to the other extreme into one cohesive force in the issuance of a unanimous decision in the emotional and controversial public school desegregation case in 1954, he would be properly recorded as our most distinguished chief justice of the 20th century. But, of course, he did much more. Dozens if not hundreds of landmark decisions were issued under his aegis in the cause of the protection by the Supreme Court of the United States of the personal freedom and liberty of every American. We are all thus eternally indebted to this immigrant son who worked his way up the political ladder from precinct organizer to the highest and most important appointive post in the land.

This inspirational autobiography has an unusual candor. The author, for example, humbly acknowledges and apologizes for his mistakes such as his approval of the internment of the Japanese Americans in the early days of panic in World War II when he was attorney-general of California. But the overall picture that emerges is one of a great and good man who dedicated his entire professional life to the pursuit of justice, and we are all the grateful beneficiaries of his success.

Haywire, by Brooke Hayward. Knopf $10

Brooke Hayward’s mother was actress Margaret Sullavan, and her father was theatrical agent and producer Leland Hayward. Among the family friends were the likes of Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart, and among the family homes were those in Hollywood and Greenwich. As a child growing up in the 1940’s, hers was a magical life style beyond compare, though one characterized by unsettling emotional extremes. Haywire is a loving, though cleareyed, recounting of a celebrity family’s existence—its days together, and its days apart after the inevitable divorce—exceptionally well-handled and written in a style far above the par for such memoirs.

The Gentle Barbarian: The Life and Work of Turgenev, by V. S. Pritchett. Random House $10

Ivan Turgenev is not widely read outside the universities today, and that is unlikely to change upon the publication of this amiable but shallow biography. Pritchett, one of England’s foremost men of letters, is incapable of being dull or of writing anything but the finest, most civilized English, but he is out of his depth in this book. In the first place, he knows no Russian, and Turgenev was a much more “Russian” writer than, say, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. And in the second place Turgenev’s was a rather pedestrian life devoid of the extremes that are the biographer’s delight; hence Pritchett’s formidable talent is largely wasted.

Pasternak, by Henry Gifford. Cambridge $18.95

With the advent of Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, Bukovsky, Amalrik, and other recent Soviet writers and dissidents, the Pasternak industry, which flourished in the West in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, has wound down its activities. The result has been the production of better, more balanced, and more valuable scholarly investigations of the life and work of the author of Dr. Zhivago. Henry Gifford has his priorities right: the famous novel (the only one Pasternak ever wrote) receives only one chapter’s worth of attention. The rest of the biography deals with Pasternak’s life and his poetry, both of which will provide inspiration long after Dr. Zhivago has been forgotten.

Gentleman in a Dustcoat: A Biography of John Crowe Ransom, by Thomas Daniel Young. Louisiana $32.50, paper $8.95

The phrase “thorough job” appears in both of the blurbs on the back of this book. The phrase is apt, as long as it does not suggest plodding competence. Young appears to have spent a decade in an admirable state of patient excitement; he has written a story, in that he has given life to the details of a career that was, on the surface, not the stuff of which exciting books are made. Young devotes proper proportions of his work to Ransom’s activities, so the careers of editing, teaching, and writing criticism and poetry illuminate each other for us now as they nourished each other during Ransom’s life. The result is a work whose usefulness extends beyond studies of modern poetry or the Fugitive and Agrarian movements to poetic theory in general, and to the theory of criticism. It is a humane achievement of a very high order. The publisher has produced the book tastefully and usefully.

The Marble Foot: An Autobiography, 1905—1938, by Peter Quennell. Viking $10

By almost any standard, Peter Quennell ranks as a minor British biographer and essayist, but he is clearly at the very top of that second level of excellence. The author of well-received works on Byron, Ruskin, Shakespeare, and Pope, Quennell now turns his hand to autobiography, and we are the richer for his efforts. He handles sensitive themes with far greater discretion than we are accustomed to these days: his rather disorganized childhood, his being sent down from Oxford for a too-obvious affair with an older woman, his unsuccessful first two marriages, his wacky adventures as an incompetent teacher of English in Japan. This is a splendid book, and one awaits the succeeding volume or volumes with great anticipation.

Agatha Christie: First Lady of Crime, edited by H. R. F. Keating. Holt, Rinehart & Winston $12.95

Only the Bible and Shakespeare outsell Christie around the world, and doubtless Christie is the one actually read. Unfortu nately, the vast assembly of reviewers and hack novelists who have contributed the critical and biographical articles to this volume have little else to offer other than exclamations of wonder at the enormity of Christie’s sales and summaries of her plots. The book is illustrated with journalistic photos of the great lady herself and stills from the films made from her novels. Christie fans will enjoy all this.

Mabel: A Biography of Mabel Dodge Luhan, by Emily Hahn. Houghton Mifflin $10

Mabel, the child of rich parents in Buffalo, discovered love and the world in that order. She found that her métier was the salon, examples of which she established in Florence, New York, and Santa Fe. With the exception of D. H. Lawrence, she does not seem to have gathered around her people of great importance nor to have much influenced those who did accept her hospitality. Lawrence, for instance, was apparently more chased than chasing. Even Miss Hahn has difficulty in making her a prime subject for biography. The author’s elegant prose only points up a cruel contrast to poor Mabel’s lack of wit.

Letters of E. B. White. Collected & Edited by Dorothy Lobrano Guth. Harper & Row $15

Collected letters make curious books indeed, for unless our interest is purely academic, we often look to such volumes for verification of our perceptions of the writer’s personality as it has been projected over the years through his writing. Too often, such letters show our writing heroes to have been either insufferable pedants or intolerable brutes. Not so with White, for here in his correspondence, sensibly arranged and edited by Miss Guth, we find a reflection of the individual we expected: committed, cheerful, curious, wise. These letters are many, but their reading is all too quickly completed.

LITERARY STUDIESThe Literature of Memory: Modem Writers of the American South, by Richard Gray. Johns Hopkins $16

The times, the places, the people are all the same as those discussed in many another volume devoted to the literature of the South, but Richard Gray in almost every chapter provides a new angle of vision, a fresh approach, an original appraisal. He makes a few small mistakes, mainly in family relationships (as in Delta Wedding), names (Carson McCullers’s family name was Smith), and time elements (as in The Sound and the Fury: it was hardly “many years ago” that Dalton Ames was the lover of Quentin Compson’s sister Caddie). But these are few and minuscule by comparison with his full and compendious rundown of the history, scope, and future of Southern literature. He may see this literature as a “curious animal,” but he also sees it as “an area of growth rather than a finished argument.”

Thomas Hardy: The Poetry of Necessity, by James Richardson. Chicago $12

The author of this work is both a published poet and a Hardy scholar, In this volume we have a poet writing about another poet, and the arrangement is a felicitous one. Perhaps only another poet could provide some of the sharp insights into Hardy’s work that are found in this book. In addition to important contrasts and comparisons of Hardy’s poetry with Keats, Shelley, even George Herbert, and Browning, Richardson manages in his analyses and appraisals some of the most lucid writing one could hope to find. Certainly every Hardy scholar should read this work—and those uninitiated in Hardy’s poetry will find the work extremely helpful.

Thought, Words and Creativity: Art and Thought in Lawrence, by F. R. Lea vis. Oxford $10

Leavis is his usual crotchety self in this volume, He limits himself to discussions of only four of Lawrence’s fictions, The Plumed Serpent, Women in Love, The Captains Doll, and The Rainbow, but that does not prevent him from going outside and bearing down hard on some of his antagonisms (T. S. Eliot, for example). His critical analyses are, as always, interesting, sharp, quirky, often repetitive, and both confusing and confused.

The Auden Generation, by Samuel Hynes. Viking $12.95

In this study of a handful of British writers who emerged in the 1930’s, Professor Hynes has grouped together a number of poets and novelists whose only real common bond was a sense of coming catastrophe, To put the young Orwell in a book with such a title is disingenuous in view of Orwell’s harsh remarks about the “pansy left.” Hynes is thorough and fair-minded but often dull, but then much of the poetry he quotes is dull and of historical interest only. Sometimes, Hynes makes dubious judgments as when he says that Gollancz’s Left Book Club “left virtually nothing behind.” It could be argued that it had more influence on the result of the 1945 British general election than all the writers referred to in this study.

The Political Writings: The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume X, edited by Donald J. Greene. Yale $30

Yale’s efforts to bring the whole of Johnson’s work before the “common reader” has aroused a storm of scholarly criticism, and this volume will not bring peace. Greene’s free-wheeling textual policy, however, does result in a closer reproduction of the originals than previous editors in the series have achieved. In all other ways his edition is magnificent. Some of the 24 pieces he includes have never before been reprinted; all are usefully annotated, bringing to bear historical context and illustrations from Johnson’s other works. In long headnotes to each, Greene supplies what is in effect a connected narrative commentary on the development of Johnson’s political and economic thought. Some may quarrel with Greene’s attempt fully to reconcile Johnson’s remarks of the 1730’s with those of the 1770’s (largely the same position he took in his earlier study on The Politics of Samuel Johnson), but all will find this volume the best context in which to read the political writings and the most usable text in the Yale series so far.

Rediscovering Hawthorne, by Kenneth Dauber. Princeton $13

Professor Dauber attempts to define and criticize Hawthorne’s “poetics,” taking as a literal and central statement of purpose Hawthorne’s famous desire “to open an intercourse with the world.” Despite occasionally stilted technical prose, especially in the valuable initial review of American criticism, Dauber traces and evaluates Hawthorne’s progress toward intimacy in numerous tales and the major novels. Dauber’s study makes use of a variety of critical approaches, rediscovering in consequence the meaning for Hawthorne of conscious fiction-making, of American literature itself.

Restoration Tragedies, edited by James Sutherland. Oxford $6.95 paper

Oxford’s new textbook anthology contains Dryden’s All For Love, Lee’s Lucius Junius Brutus, Banks’s The Unhappy Favourite, Otway’s Venice Preserved, and Southerne’s adaptation of Oroonoko. Of these, Banks’s play is difficult to find elsewhere, and Southerne’s cannot be had elsewhere in paperback. Sutherland contributes brief headnotes to each play and an elegant, uninformative preface to the whole. As in other volumes in this series, annotation to the plays is sparse.

The Adventurous Muse: The Poetics of American Fiction, 1789—1900, by William C. Spengemann. Yale $15

Based on the interplay of the poetics of adventure and the poetics of domesticity, this study offers a valuable, albeit conveniently selective, rhetorical survey of narrative, historical, and autobiographical literature—both European and American— from the Middle Ages through the 19th century. American literature is characterized by an adventurous ethos fathered by Columbus, weaned by Tyler and Poe, matured and exhausted by Hawthorne, Melville, and Twain, and revitalized by James. Spengemann’s refreshing approach should provoke renewed discussion of the major 19th-century American writers.

The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Volume XIU: 1852—1855, edited by Ralph H. Orth and Alfred R. Ferguson. Harvard $35

This edition’s greatest asset—its editorial apparatus—is also its most costly liability: the specialist will delight in the meticulous presentations of Emerson’s casual jottings, but most readers will find the editors’ ellipses, brackets, and arrows a severe impediment to the readability of the text. Nonetheless, this volume will be a welcome, though dear, addition to libraries which can afford to purchase editions scholars can’t afford to ignore.

Books That Changed the South, by Robert B. Downs. North Carolina $10.95

In the tradition of his Books That Changed the World and Books That Changed America, Robert Downs has added a new volume to his writings on great books. Books That Changed the South, like the others, is both enlightening and enjoyable. From Captain John Smith’s General History of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles, through the works of Jefferson, Calhoun, DuBois, Odum, and Woodward, Downs offers excellent reviews of the works and their influences. This approach is a fascinating way to study the cultural history of a people.

HISTORYExodusters; Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction, by Nell Irvin Painter. Knopf $12.95

At the close of Reconstruction, as white violence, the loss of civil rights, and economic privation dashed the remaining hopes of Southern freedmen, several thousand black people made an “exodus” to the promised land of Kansas. Related to earlier efforts to return to Africa and permeated by millennial dreams, this migration actually changed very little for very few. However, it affords an enterprising and sensitive historian an opportunity to describe the lives of poor, rural black people at a particularly desperate moment in their history. Ms. Painter pieces together an affecting and valuable portrait from fragmentary and scattered primary sources. Her handsomely published book also contains some fine illustrations.

The Precarious Truce: Anglo-Soviet Relations, 1924—1927, by Gabriel Gorodetsky. Cambridge $18.95

It is difficult to remember that half a century ago Great Britain and not the United States was considered the main enemy of the Kremlin. No one had yet perceived the irreversible decline in British power launched by the Great War, and the Bolsheviks persisted in their mistaken belief that Whitehall had only to give the signal to launch the great crusade to destroy communism. Mr. Gorodetsky’s book traces the “precarious” relationship between an aging power and an emerging one in the 1920’s; the scholarship is sound and the story well told.

Revolt in Louisiana: The Spanish Occupation, 1766—1770, by John Preston Moore. Louisiana $10.95

A new book by a distinguished elder historian is always an occasion. This elegant and cosmopolitan little book is a splendid contribution to the literature of Western colonialism. It is also a very sensitive discussion of the respective roles of Iberian and Gallic traditions, temperaments, and policies in the working out of the hybrid Latin character of Louisiana. Moore examines the October Rebellion of 1768, the expedition of General O’Reilly, and the restoration and enlargement of Spanish authority with a fresh and comprehensive view of the background, causes, and consequences of these signal events.

Toward A Warless World, by David S. Patterson. Indiana $15

This is a diplomatic and social history of the American peace movement from 1887 to 1914. Patterson explores the institutional strengths and shortcomings of the volatile progressives (more aptly, upper class elitists), who rarely agreed on even the most superficial of goals. Despite this divisiveness, there was a general shift from a noninstitutional pacifism to an institutional internationalism as America emerged as a major world power.

Resistance: European Resistance to Nazism; 1940—45, by M. R. D. Foot. McGraw-Hill $15

As they say of the talking dog, the important thing is not that it is done badly but that it is done at all. To cover the history of the resistance—and despite the title the book deals with the problem on a global, not just a European, basis—in one volume is an impossibly difficult feat. M. R. D. Foot does not really bring it off, and beyond that he adds nothing to our knowledge, but nonetheless his book is valuable as a compendium and a chronology. Some readers will quarrel with Foot’s belittling of the “Enigma” coup, and everyone should resent the dangling participles that occur on every single page. This may be the worst-written book by an educated Englishman in this century.

The Arab World: A Comprehensive History, by Peter Mansfield. Crowell $16.95

Peter Mansfield is described on the dust-jacket of this book as serving on the Executive Committee of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding. It is true that Englishmen have always been fascinated by the hot and wayward romance of Arab countries, and it is no accident that Lawrence of Arabia was English, just as it is no accident that England today harbors some astonishingly passionate and even venomous partisans for Arab causes. This book appears sometimes to be little more than shallow propaganda for Arab interests. It is also dull.

The Fabians, by Norman and Jeanne McKenzie. Simon and Schuster $12.95

Abraham Lincoln’s comment about General McClellan fits the Fabians perfectly: they had “the slows.” One would think that any political party or social movement led by George Bernard Shaw, Ramsay MacDonald, and Sidney and Beatrice Webb would be a dynamic force in British life. The opposite was true. The Fabians (who took their name from the Roman general Fabius the Cunctator, who defeated Hannibal by avoiding battle with him) insisted upon the “inevitability of gradualness,” and this left them in the dust of even the Russian Mensheviks. They vaguely understood that British capitalism was a dying force, yet for all their formidable intellectual talent they were incapable of helping to shape the post-capitalist period. When their one hope, the Liberal Party, collapsed, the Fabians could only travel along in the wake of Labour, writing learned position papers and pamphlets and books that few read and fewer still cared about. The present study is a useful compendium of information but not much more than that; this group of British eccentrics awaits its historian.

Anarchists of Andalusia, 1868—1903, by Temma Kaplan. Princeton $13.50

This outstanding scholarly work must immediately be proclaimed for what it is: a piece of work that is going to make everyone interested in Spain and anarchism in the latter part of the 19th century reexamine his previously conceived views. Ms. Kaplan, on the basis of thorough archival research, has shown that the anarchists of Andalusia were not mere eccentrics and misfits in the mold of the Russian who launched the movement, Michael Bakunin. Indeed, there was, as we can see now, little that was “anarchist” about the movement in Spain. It was highly organized and intelligently led, and it was supported by thousands of workers in Cadiz Province, the largest and richest sherry-producing area in the world. Ms. Kaplan tells an important tale, a romantic tale, and a scholarly one. She is to be commended for producing one of the best books this reviewer has come across in many a year.

The Feminization of American Culture, by Ann Douglas. Knopf $15

This is no misogynist tirade a la Philip Wylie on the evils of momism, although it investigates what might be the historical origins of that social disease. It is instead a completely delicious, scholarly treatment of Victorian America’s mass culture, which was apparently the creation of an “alliance between women and the Clergy,” which gave both these oppressed classes a power over American life and literature which otherwise they would not have had. Thus was born the sentimental, religious, and rather morbid strain of popular writing which was satirized by Twain but which nearly destroyed Melville.

The Habsburg Empire in World War I, edited by Robert A. Kann, Béla K. Kiraly, Paula S. Fichtner. Columbia $14

It has been said that had the Habsburg Empire not existed, it would have been impossible to invent it. That is probably true. No one has ever explained how a minor south German princely house built an empire that lasted as long as Hitler hoped his Third Reich would and embraced almost as many peoples: Germans, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Romanians, Italians, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Jews, Turks, and at least three or four more. There was no reason why these peoples should live together in harmony, and yet they did, broadly speaking, until the great cataclysm that was the First World War tore them apart. To be sure, there had been separatist movements galore for many generations; but the majority of all the peoples tended to revere the gute alte Kaiser (or Kaiserin, when Maria Theresa was on the throne) and to accept his suzerainty. A handful of radicals wounded but could not destroy the old Empire; it took a great war to do that, and the radicals inherited the debris. It had to be, no doubt, but Central Europe has known no real peace since the early spring of 1914.

FICTIONAn American Romance, by John Casey. Atheneum $9,95

This successful first novel ostensibly tells the story of a contemporary theatrical commune set in the heartland of America, where the lead couple are deeply in love with themselves as well as with each other. But it really is rather a deep insight into the sharp contrast between the life-style and language of the younger generation of today and that of the over 30 not-to-be-trusted older folks. The reader will thus learn a great deal about modern society in general and himself in particular, regardless of his age or to which group he presently happens to relate, so if you’re shocked, perhaps you’re simply just not with it.

Falconer, by John Cheever. Knopf $7.95

Cheever’s prison novel is a metaphysical, metaphorical foray into the realm of quasi-religiosity. The central character here is Farragut: wealthy, Waspy, wimpy; academician, husband, father, and loser, serving time at Falconer Prison for fratricide, an imprisonment that leads to redemption and release—literally, in a body bag disguised as a corpse. Falconer is alternately complex and simplistic, amusing and distressing, memorable and forgettable. If the reader can’t decide which, it’s because Cheever offers little evidence of having decided for himself.

Insanity Runs in Our Family, by Hal Bennett. Doubleday $8 .95

If honest writing is that which grows from love, anguish, and hope, then Hal Bennett is an honest writer. The 15 stories in this collection burn into the conscience, for they give us odd-angled glimpses of rampant insanity in America. Bennett is very sensitive to the effects of poverty and hopelessness, and his rendering of those effects is powerful, even unnerving. The author of five novels, Bennett has yet to be recognized as one of the great satirists of our time. Without the dark humor and implicit morality and humanity of a Hal Bennett, our depression would lack a safety valve .

How To Save four Own Life, by Erica. Holt, Rinehart if Wlnston $8.95

Erica Jong’s second novel is based entirely on the events and emotions that followed the publication of her successful first book, Fear of Flying. Success seems not only to have destroyed the writer’s good humor, compassion, and common sense; it also has done dreadful things to her writing. This novel reads like the transcript of a woman overheard in a laundromat, complaining about her husband, her feet, the price of groceries, and life in general — and in whatever order. The extent of Ms. Jong’s miscalculation can be guessed from the fact that the Wall Street Journal headed its review of this novel “An Incitement to Celibacy.”

A Book of Common Prayer, by Joan Didion. Simon and Schuster $8.95

This long-awaited and much-praised novel is similar to, but not as good as, Didion’s earlier novel of ennui and despair, Play It As It Lays, Like Maria in the earlier novel, Charlotte Douglas attempts to piece her shattered life together by lying low, committing rationally irrational acts, and adopting Hemingwayan stoicism. The novel is more striking stylistically, although the ironies are too often forced, than for the story it tells. It is the story of Charlotte, whose once-proper daughter joins revolutionaries and burns a plane, destroying her mother’s already tenuous understanding of the world just as she destroys the plane. The story is narrated by Grace Strasser-Mendana, friend to Charlotte, who is dying of cancer.

East Wind, Rain, by N. Richard Nash. Atheneum $9.95

Set in Hawaii just prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, East Wind, Rain is a spellbinding novel built on two major plot lines—the military intelligence surrounding the movement of the Japanese fleet in the Pacific and the tragic results of a love affair between a Japanese woman and an American military officer. These lines meld and lead Johanna Winter, a Naval officer’s widow, and Tad Clark, Commander, Naval Intelligence, through the rugged mountains of Palao in search of Tokan, a Japanese importer—she for revenge and he for the key to the Purple Code. Something for everyone.

The House of Cristina, by Ben Haas. Simon and Schuster $9.95

This is a touching World War II love story set in the Vienna Woods (which paradoxically spawned both Strauss and Hitler). It does not have an epic theme; there are no heroic characters. It is just plain old-fashioned, good reading penned by a masterful teller of tales who should be encouraged to continue to share his deft craft with us.

Yellow Roses, by Elizabeth Cullinan. Viking $8.95

Quite a few of these stories involve the same characters: a woman and man who have an affair and who continue to see each other after his marriage. The stories are not very exciting, except for the excellent “A Foregone Conclusion,” in which the woman’s relationship with the man ends abruptly, senselessly, as they leave a New York restaurant, surprising us as it surprises her. What is missing from many of the stories is that sense of surprise; Cullinan seems to know what she is doing so surely that her writing seems plodding, her subjects unexciting.

Prize Stories 1977 The O. Henry Awards,edited by William Abrahams. Doubleday $8.95

Take heart: people do not really die of boredom. Neither should they spend money to get bored. A first story by Emily Arnold McCully is one of the most readable. There are good writers here: Alice Adams, Laurie Colwin; the less well-known John Sayles and Patricia Zelver. But these are not their best stories. The short story is not in danger of dying, but this book will never help its cause.

Fata Morgana, by William Kotzwinkle. Knopf $7.95

This novel is a rare treat. It is a clever combination of an adult fairy tale and a cultural suspense story. Set in the reign of Louis Napoleon, we follow the Parisian police inspector tracking his prey through the Balkans. The apt title is from the Italian and means a mirage, especially the work of a sorcerer. Unraveling the mystery and intrigue of the dastardly conjurer makes for refreshing escapism and gripping entertainment.

The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough. Harper & Row $9.95

Australia is big, vibrant, and relentless and so is this story, which does for the little known land down under what Giant did for Texas and Gone With the Wind did for the South. A Literary Guild selection, the fast moving novel is obviously destined for the best seller lists as well as Hollywood. It should be a smashing success, and deservedly so, as a paper back.

Springer’s Progress, by David Markson. Holt, Rinehart & Winston $8.95

Misleadingly self-proclaimed as a mature love story, this alleged novel is a complete failure in its attempt to be clever and literary. Dirty rather than bawdy, it is without any redeeming social value or anything else for that matter. It contains neither plot nor theme, neither rhyme nor reason. It is, however, loaded with four-letter words, some even in foreign languages, in its condescending concession to culture.

Reunion, a novella by Fred Uhlman. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $6.95

This small treasure of a book recounts the friendship between the narrator, a Jew in Germany on the eve of Hitler’s take-over, and a classmate who is the scion of an aristocratic family, the von Hohenfels. The boys get along well, but the young count’s parents, especially his mother, cannot abide her son’s friendship with a Jew. The inevitable parting comes; the boys cannot understand but are obliged to accept. “The House of Hohenfels,” the narrator writes, “was closed to me forever.” Skip 30 years. The young boy excluded from the noble home is in America, where he unexpectedly learns the fate of his former friend. This is a disturbing book.

Academia Nuts or, The Collected Works of Clara LePage, by Charles R. Larson. Bobbs-Merrill $7.95

Anyone who has ever taken or taught a survey course in the literary monuments has met a student a little like Clara LePage. No one else, however, could be so consistently zany in interpretation: Oedipus must have slept with his socks on, she says, Henry James was a woman, the Wife of Bath was a nun in disguise, and so forth. Her most original and entertaining work is “Archetypal Patterns in The MLA Style Sheet,” unearthed in A. D. 2076 as “a curious piece of literature, long out of print and forgotten.” This collection of crazy vignettes has been published piecemeal in journals, and its wit would be best appreciated in small doses. It is an hilarious evening’s reading, though, and its barbs are directed at dense students and ponderous scholars alike.

The Long Naked Descent into Boston, by William Eastlake. Viking $10

Since puns, canny historical allusions, sight gags, and brash anachronisms are showered upon each paragraph, the business here must be comedy, but these devices of wit only clog or at best amaze, as might an ingenious crossword puzzle entry, without really sparking humor in this long shaggy dog story about the American Revolution. Although one man’s heartfelt yawn may be another’s belly laugh, surely jokes fail that are not only telegraphed but hand-delivered, not only self-conscious but also fecklessly derivative. Beneath the insistent highway hum of the tortured witmaking, Eastlake has somewhat serious matter: spoof of the male penchant for war, the news that history lies, a listless cheer for anti-intellectualism, the insight that the young country merely wanted space to grow up and become as rapacious as the other guys. More important for his admirers are the sadly few moments that rise and sing out in his own true voice when, briefly, the arch, uneasy comic gesturing goes sprawling from its own gross weight.

Full Disclosure, by William Safire. Doubleday $10.95

The American public is being saturated by a spate of books in a new literary genre. Ex-federal government employees from White House cooks down to U. S. Vice Presidents are now writing novels built around their expose of what it really was like on the inside of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The books range the gamut from pretty bad to absolutely horrendous. This is one of the better ones.

A former Nixon speech writer and present N. Y. Times columnist relates the story of an American President in the 80’s who had to lose his sight in order to gain his vision in the exciting first application of the 25th Amendment governing the removal of a disabled national leader. It beats writing your memoirs if you want to make a fast buck as private severance pay from Ol’ Uncle Sam.

An Exemplary Life, by Siegfried Lenz. Hillb Wang $12.50

In An Exemplary Life, Siegfried Lenz, previously best known for his international best-seller The German Lesson, succeeds in producing a masterfully controlled novel brimming with captivating and ironic insights into life in postwar Germany. Set against the background of Hamburg, An Exemplary Life revolves around three central figures—two teachers and a publisher’s reader—who comprise a committee charged with the selection of materials to be included in a German school reader. As the novel begins, agreement has already been reached on the reader’s first two sections. What remains are the decisions concerning materials for the third section, “An Exemplary Life,” which is intended to provide a model for emulation by the new generation of German school children. In presenting the deliberations of the committee and following the private pursuits of the central characters between committee meetings, Lenz has fashioned a highly perceptive, extremely witty narrative that probes and reveals the idiosyncrasies and hypocrisies of those who lead anything but “an exemplary life.” Written with a crisp style and sensitive eye to comic detail, the novel is filled with fascinating vignettes that make it a delight to read.

Lucinella, by Lore Segal. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $8.95

Lucinella is an elegant and exhilarating odyssey through the world of New York poets, an endlessly witty and tender story written with the lightheartedness of fantasy, but beneath its fantastic embellishments unerringly realistic about what literary people are like. Lore Segal has written an altogether wonderful book, a joy to read.

Entertaining Strangers, by A. R. Gurney, Jr. Doubleday $7.95

This thoroughly enjoyable novel is a devastatingly funny and highly sophisticated dissection of the academic life. It will be an enlightening revelation to those who navïely think that pure sweetness and light prevail behind the ivy towers of a University. Despite their scholarly insights and cultural references, professors are shown to be subject to all the human frailties of bad character, excessive ambition, and destructive jealousy. The hilarious description of a typical faculty meeting is itself worth the entire price of the book.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSThe Future that Doesn’t Work: Social Democracy’s Failures in Britain, edited by R. Emmett Tyrrell. Doubleday $6.95

This chronicle of the economic, social, and political disasters of socialism in contemporary England ought to be required reading of every politician and would-be politico in the United States today. England may represent the most advanced case of how government control of the economic forces can lead to the impoverishment of society. That this should take place in a truly democratic polity poses more than a problem for the economists; it is perhaps the most important question for political theory at the present time as well. These brilliantly insightful, though uniformly pessimistic, essays, can give Americans a glimpse into their own future unless certain changes now in progress are not only halted but reversed. Among the authors of this collection are James Q. Wilson, Irving Kristol, Peter Jay, Colin Welch, and others. The common thread throughout is the failure of many of the measures now being discussed in the United States, such as national health care. The persistance of support for these measures in spite of their demonstrated failure is the one unanswered question of the essays, although the implicit answer by more than one author is much in evidence between the lines—the dominance of Utopian ideologies in economic and political thought at the expense of empiricism. The economic and political casualty of this fiasco has been reason itself. One of the major collections of essays for 1977.

Corporatism and Development, The Portuguese Experience, by Howard Wiarda. Massachusetts $20

There should be no doubt that this is the major work on modern Portugal. But it should also be pointed out that in terms of its theoretical reach it is more than just Portugal. It is a look at corporatism as a distinct political phenomenon of the 20th century in general and Portugal in particular. As a political theory, corporatism is neither liberal, conservative, Fascist, or totalitarian, as these terms are commonly used. It is one of the primary strengths of Wiarda’s study that he is sensitive to these distinctions. He is correct in pointing out that this is a distinct form of political development with deep roots in the Latin traditions of both the Old World and the New. To quote from his work, “What we are looking at in the corporatist model is a complex and varied form . . .with a long tradition of its own and a great body of political philosophy and sociology, because we have ignored it or condemned it out of hand, we are almost wholly unfamiliar.” Wirada argues that not only Locke, but Suarez and Aquinas may be valid as models for political development. An excellent study.

The Founding Principles of American Government. Two Hundred Years of Democracy on Trial, edited by George J. Graham, Jr. and Scarlett G. Graham. Indiana $17.50

This collection of fresh, insightful essays on traditional themes of American government is one of the more important recent works in American government. The excellent essays are generally organized around the important but all too often overlooked theme of the problems of “founding” political regimes, most especially constitutional ones. This collection fills an important gap in the literature of American government. Among the essays are George W. Carey on “The Separation of Powers,” Valeric Earle on “The Federal Structure,” Ronald M. Peters, Jr. on “The Written Constitution,” and two essays by Charles S. Hyneman on “A Call for Political Theory” and “Republican Government in America.” A fine collection.

The Poverty of Power: Energy and the Economic Crisis, by Barry Commoner. Knopf $10

Barry Commoner, a biologist and professor of environmental science at Washington University and Director of its Center for the Biology of Natural Systems, opens with a cogent explanation of the science of energy. He examines the advantages and difficulties of fossil fuels as energy sources, finds nuclear sources of power catastrophic, and strongly supports more research on and use of solar energy. While Commoner is grounded in the natural sciences and is an articulate enviromentalist, he recognizes that the economic and, by implication, the political aspects of the energy problem must be addressed. He correctly perceives the interrelatedness of our energy, environmental, and economic concerns. The difficulty, he believes, is to be found in an economic system guided by the profit motive, and the solution he seems to favor, in most general terms, is to be found in some form of socialism. One may note serious weaknesses of our so-called capitalization and yet find the last part of Commoner’s book not very convincing, especially if, in response to his suggestion, one takes a really careful look at the economic records of the Socialist states. Should Commoner study further in the fields of economics and politics, he may discover even greater complexities than in the natural sciences.

Criminal Russia, by Valery Chalidze. Random House $10

Even prominent émigrés must eat, and that is presumably what drove Mr. Chalidze, by profession a physicist and by fiat of the Kremlin an involuntary exile in America, to write this skimpy account of crime in the Soviet Union. The country publishes very few statistics on crime, which is allegedly “bourgeois” and therefore cannot exist in a Socialist state. For this reason Mr. Chalidze, who himself had no contact with Soviet criminals, must rely on what “B” said to “R” about the crimes committed by “D” and so forth. There is simply no concrete information in this book. What we need, presumably, is for a first-class crook to cross over to our side and tell his story.

The Natural Superiority of Southern Politicians, by David Leon Chandler. Doubleday $10

A catchy title demands a lot, doesn’t it? Too bad it didn’t come through. Chandler’s thesis is the obvious—and his introduction suggests some valid thoughts. Look who gave us the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the United Nations, or the New Freedom—all Southerners. Chandler even postulates some reasons for this leadership, reasons which promise interesting examinations of the Southern character. Unfortunately, after this fascinating introduction, the book degenerates into a weak and sketchy overview of American government . . .with anecdotes about Southerners. Disappointing.

Power and Privilege: Influence and Decision-Making in Pakistan, by Robert La Porte, Jr. California $18.75

In this short study, Professor La Porte focuses upon the power elites which have supported the regimes of Pakistan during its three decades of independence. He notes the shift from reliance upon traditional power groups—the military and civilian bureaucrats and the big land-owners—in the first decades to the rise of a very narrow new industrial elite under Gen. Ayub Khan, and to Bhutto’s encouragement of new professional middle class groups and even of urban workers and poorer peasants with his rise to the Prime Ministry in 1971. However, Bhutto seems to rely on no particular elite group, but to encourage competing interests. He plays them against each other and represses them when he believes that any of them may threaten his plans, La Porte finds that the influence of the United States in Pakistani decision-making was fairly significant in economic policy, especially during the Ayub regime, but it was not very important politically.

This study is a useful contribution to an understanding of Pakistani politics, but it suffers somewhat from insufficient attention to regional and religious factors, and from the lack of sufficient supporting hard data.

Inside the KGB, by Aleksei Myagkov. Arlington House $7.95

We are not taken quite so far inside the fearsome secret police of the Soviet Union as the publisher of this book promises. Myagkov was a low-level KGB officer stationed in Germany who defected to the West recently. He was no doubt thoroughly debriefed, and his manuscript has certainly been carefully edited by Western intelligence: we do not want the other side to know everything their man spilled. But judging from what we have here, Myagkov had little to spill. The “top secret” documents he publishes are worthless junk, and he provides no new insights into the workings of the KGB. This is, in short, a pretty box that turns out to be empty.

POETRYMoon-Whales and Other Moon Poems, by Ted Hughes. Viking Press, $7.95

This new collection of poetry by one of the best contemporary poets evokes the fantasies of childhood with a wit and horror hard to match. The moon as central image serves as the springboard for a fertile and sometimes perverse imagination. Titles of the poems range from “Moon-Nasturtiums” (these flowers form jungles on Hughes’s moon and are inhabited by caterpillars the size of anacondas) to “Moon-Marriage,” a piece with the terror of a nightmare and clearly intended for children of the adult persuasion. The illustrations by Leonard Baskin superbly illuminate the wit and wry flavor of the poetry.

Round and Round: A Triptych, by Dabney Stuart. Louisiana paper $3.95

One wonders why Stuart, in his comments on the back, insists on the thematic and tonal unity of the three parts of his book. The first two “panels” are variations on the song/ballad with many ironic twists on tradition—some successful, some obscure or too cute. Since the third part differs in style and subject, the triptych framework seems like an apology for combining early with recent poems.

Stuart can write poetry for the ear and sensuous imagination as well as for the eye and brain; he has a fine feeling for rhyme, rhythm, and refrain, and the pieces on “the fool, the slut and the poet” show him at his lyric best. These poems depart from his previous collections to a more pleasing if simpler and less intellectual mode. The vision is still bleak; a world of waste and betrayal where the desire for human decency and grace is constantly thwarted by superiors or erotic impulses. The only response to the speaker’s interrogative mood is nasty, brutish, and short.

Stuart’s poems tend to be carefully made but can be cryptic or irritatingly complacent when he attempts to force autobiography into social comment. His themes travel through various stages of the search for identity, commenting on the poet’s and poetry’s place in society.

Androgyne, Mon Amour, by Tennessee Williams. New Directions $8.50

These poems are occasional works written in the past 13 years since the publication of Williams’s first volume of poetry, In the Winter of Cities. Here we see poems which must be subjective responses to events chronicled in Williams’s recently published Memoirs. Many of the poems are confessional and deal principally with Williams’s anxiety about aging and death. Several of the poems are explicitly erotic— they recall the graphic erotic descriptions of Williams’ recent novel, Moise and the World of Reason. These erotic poems and the distanced, mysterious poems like “Liturgy of Roses” and the title poem, seem more successful than the confessional works. At points in the volume, Williams is in touch with the forces of emotion which energize his best writing.

Burn Down the Icons, by Grace Schulman. Princeton $7.50, paper $3.95

Reading Grace Schulman is like driving through suburbia. A certain bland decency prevails, but nothing really arrests the attention, except occasionally when some unorthodox phrasing (“I preside the sea”) jars the eye like a stone darky on a 1970’s lawn. A couple of fairly pretentious pieces let us know that Schulman is a poetry editor, failed an oral exam, and knows Marianne Moore. Meanwhile, certain fine images (a shadow that looks like a rearing horse) fade into metaphysics, while a title that promises at least local color (“Street Dance in Barcelona”) leads into a vague account of a circle ritual that might be anywhere, for any purpose. Some competent sonnets at least show an effort at discipline, but many are the poems (such as one on the burial of a Greek fisherman) that require lopping off of start and finish so that naked image can be rescued from the interfering mind, like a child from a nattering aunt.

A Swim off the Rocks: Light Verse, by Howard Moss. Atheneum paper $3.95

Admirers of the serious verse of Howard Moss will be charmed, and perhaps surprised, to find how much highly accomplished light verse he has written over the years. Though more than occasionally metrically rough, the lighter poetry of Moss is always urbane, intelligent, and civilized, a pleasure to read, and, at its best, hilarious.

How did I get to be 40, & other atrocities,by Judith Viorst. Simon and Schuster $4.95

Judith Viorst has a sharp and rueful eye for trials and tribulations, her own as well as those of her children, her pets, her neighbors. Neither her wit nor her anguish is as extreme and occasionally chilling as that found in the works of Edna Millay, Dorothy Parker, or Sylvia Plath, and in this volume her poetic skills are often shaky. But this small book may provide a pleasant half-hour for those with a taste for wry, self-deprecatory wit.

Poems of the Two Worlds, by Frederick Morgan. Illinois $3.95

This new collection of poems by the editor of The Hudson Review is a deeply moving entertainment. He plays upon all sensual levels and does so with thoughtful candor and immense erudition and energy. The collection addresses the suspicion of the author, apparently considered over many years, that “At the gate of the worlds stands Truth/and speaks a question into the world.” The poems are tightly formed but exciting reading.

Keeping Time, by Judith Moffett. Louisiana paper $3.95

This is an unusually fine collection of poems; for a first book it is extraordinary. Moffett handles a variety of forms and modes with skill and tact; she can be confessional or metaphysical, in free verse or in forms as tight as the villanelle. Such variety is not unusual in first books; what is remarkable here is that almost every poem is free of the attitudinizing or tradition-rummaging that leads young poets to a variety of exercises; these poems speak, eloquently and forcefully, for themselves and for their poet, whose book establishes her as more than promising.

Prussian Nights: A Poem, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $8, 95

The Solzhenitsyn industry continues to flourish. This long poem, presented here in the original Russian and in an inferior English translation by Robert Conquest, was written during the author’s well-known sojourn in one of Stalin’s prison camps. It tells the tale of the Soviet advance through East Prussia in the closing months of the Second World War. As an evocation of the horrors of conflict, it cannot compare with some of the trench poetry of the 1914—1918 War, but it most certainly is a useful antidote to the Communist mythology of the Red Army. Looting, rape, pillage, and murder were common at the front and in the rear; blood for blood, Stalin demanded, and German, Polish, and even Soviet civilians paid in full measure. Solzhenitsyn as a poet ranks even below Solzhenitsyn as a prose writer, but his ultimate place in history will surely be as a moralist—sometimes a misguided one—and Prussian Nights will not diminish his stature in that realm.

Queen of Darkness, by Celia Gilbert. Viking $6.95

Celia Gilbert, a poet widely published in magazine form, has her first book in this collection by Viking. Read in sequence, in the order in which they appear, the poems release an extraordinary sense of growth. They are intensely personal. They could, I think, only have been written by a woman, which is not to say that they are written for women. Ranging from the deeply moving “The First Day of Death” to the humorous “We Are,” they speak with a fresh voice. They open windows into areas of experience hitherto little explored. Celia Gilbert once quoted a chance remark of Robert Lowell’s: “How odd it is that almost all good women poets are either divorced or lesbian.” Perhaps not a very considered observation, but fairly true nonetheless. Gilbert’s own poems, in this strong collection by a new talent, go far to dispel the chilling thought.


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