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Notes on Current Books, Autumn 1985

ISSUE:  Autumn 1985

White Southerners have always thought themselves misunderstood. Thus for the last 150 years a succession of the most sensitive and articulate white Southerners have devoted their lives to explaining, defending, chastising their homeland. Fred Hobson explores a particularly revealing and neglected genre of this tradition: those driven writers who turned to nonacademic nonfiction to convey their passionate concerns about the South. A few of the people he deals with are moderately famous, but most are not. The names of Daniel R. Hundley, Robert Lewis Dabney, and Howard Odum, for example, are seldom heard outside the seminar room. The book is more interesting for that reason; these writers emerge fresh, their concerns still engaging. Hobson does not force their ragings into brittle boxes but instead coaxes meaning out of their longing to make clear just what the South was about. The book is written with flair and empathy; its judgments are firm but fair; its subject vital for as long as people remember a South.

The Working People of Paris, 1871—1914, by Lenard R. Berlanstein.Johns Hopkins $25.95

Sometimes portrayed as a faceless mass of dull-witted robots, the working class is of course as heterogeneous as its adversary, the bourgeoisie. Professor Berlanstein depicts the workers of Paris and its suburbs in all their multiple personalities in this splendid account of the last couple of generations before the First World War. Based upon exhaustive research in archival and secondary materials, Berlanstein sets the scene for some of the great conflicts that were to erupt in the 20th century.

Religious Enthusiasm in the New World: Heresy to Revolution, by David S.Lovejoy. Harvard $25

Professor Lovejoy’s book contributes to a recent historiographical trend accenting the importance of religious dissent in colonial America. In England and the New World, “enthusiasts,” such as Anabaptists, Antinomians, and Separatists, were viewed as a threat to religious, political, and social institutions. Their spirit of rebelliousness was so pervasive that even the Great Awakening, a call for a return to religious orthodoxy, was presented in such a way that it smacked of the disruptive qualities of enthusiasm. Was religious enthusiasm an underlying cause of the American Revolution? While the author is cautious not to overstate its importance, he provides evidence suggesting that the spirit of enthusiasm may well have had “spilled over” into the political arena.

Summit At Teheran: The Untold Story, by Keith Eubank. Morrow $21.95

So long as the demand for silly books about World War II remains strong, historians will apparently rush to meet and even exceed it. Professor Eubank of Queens College has absolutely nothing new to say about the Teheran Conference, and he says it at considerable length. He has no understanding of the Russians and precious little of the British and Americans. He does know all the clichés, and he faithfully repeats them in this ponderously insignificant book.

Breaking the Land: The Transformation of Cotton, Tobacco, and Rice Cultures since 1880, by Pete Daniel. Illinois $22.50

It is becoming increasingly clear that the 15 years between 1930 and 1945 marked a watershed in Southern history second in importance only to the years between 1861 and 1865.Pete Daniel, in this engaging and innovative book, reveals how the federal government, depression, and world war transformed the sharecropper South to the South of mechanized farming, More than any previous historian, Daniel concerns himself with the human costs as well as the economic benefits of this change; the tally is not encouraging. His book has no real villains but millions of heroes. Daniel’s respect for the common people and his clear-eyed estimate of what they have gained and lost makes this book even more than a comprehensive history of Southern agriculture in the 20th century—it makes it a moving drama whose end has not yet arrived.

The Making of the Soviet System: Essays in the Social History of Interwar Russia, by Moshe Lewin. Pantheon $14.95

Most of the essays in this useful collection have been previously published, but students and specialists will welcome the collection for its splendid, integrated analysis of the Stalinist system in its formative years. Professor Lewin is perhaps the one Sovietologist whose works command unanimous respect, and this book demonstrates why.

Criminal Proceedings in Colonial Virginia: Richmond County, 1710/11—1754, edited by Peter Charles Hoffer and William B.Scott. Georgia $35

This compilation of the criminal court records of Richmond County, Virginia represents an important slice of life in an 18th-century plantation community. Local courts were the foci of authority in Richmond County, and these institutions were dominated by wealthy planters. By manipulating legal procedures, local judges limited the number of cases that were referred to the colony’s central courts in Williamsburg and thereby enhanced their own power. It is interesting that as the nonfree population of the county increased, cases in which slaves were charged with crimes swelled the local dockets. The courts meted out severe punishments to convicted slaves, a practice obviously intended to check slave rebelliousness. Volumes such as this illustrate how records collecting dust in local courthouses can be employed to contribute to our understanding of social history.

When the War Was Over: The Failure of Self-Reconstruction in the South, by Dan T. Carter.Louisiana $27.50 cloth, $12.95 paper

The historiography of Reconstruction has been as confusing as Reconstruction itself; the pendulum of interpretation seems to swing widely in one direction only to swing more forcefully in the other. Dan T.Carter’s book should help slow the pendulum. His argument is that the white South’s most conservative leaders were at the helm between 1865 and 1867 and that they followed as cautious a path as their ideals of “manhood”—defined politically, economically, and racially—allowed them. Their obduracy was not without its own logic. Though Carter warns that his conclusions may offend modern sensibilities, his narrative is subtle, nonjudgmental, and balanced. His point is worth knowing, his book worth having.

The Collected Essays of Christopher Hill, Vol.1: Writing and Revolution in 17th-century England.Massachusetts $25

The essays and reviews reprinted here, gathered from all stages of Hill’s long and influential career, comprise a history (written of course from Hill’s Marxist perspective) of revolutionary and subversive thought in 17th-century literature, especially in the poetry of Wither, Milton, Marvell, Vaughan, Traherne, Butler, and Rochester. To his essays (many rewritten for the occasion) Hill adds an important introduction (on “Censorship and English Literature”) and a conclusion which summarizes the most important fruit of Hill’s varied literary enquiries. The collection has thus been made into a readable and coherent volume, full of Hill’s usual energy and suggestiveness, as well as his customary biases and unsubstantiated claims of influence.

The R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, by Nannie M. Tilley. North Carolina $35

This account of the growth of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company exhibits weaknesses typical of company histories. First, the story is clouded by innumerable details and anecdotes which, while they may be interesting to the casual reader, are of little historical significance. Second, the author has so focused on her subject that she has underplayed R.J.Reynolds’ role in the tobacco industry and in the expansion of American enterprise generally. And third, while Professor Tilley touches on important issues such as company management, labor strife, and technological advances, she has failed to place her discussions in an interpretive scheme. This is unfortunate, since this book obviously represents years of researching, interviewing, and writing.

A Thread of Deceit: Espionage Myths of World War II, by Nigel West.Random House $16.95

Author of two books on MI/5 and one on MI/6, Nigel West here dispels several misconceptions about intelligence and its assessment in the U.S.and England from Pearl Harbor to 1943.Among the canards blown out of the water are those of Roosevelt’s foreknowledge of the Japanese sneak attack, and Churchill’s of the air raid on Coventry, as well as the identity and deeds of “Intrepid.” Fascinating, if arid in style and schematic in outline.

LIVES & LETTERS Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story: Statesman of the Old Republic, by R. Kent Newmyer.North Carolina $33

R. Kent Newmyer has produced the most complete, thoughtful biography to date of Chief Justice John Marshall’s longtime colleague and philosophical compatriot, Justice Joseph Story. The author devotes considerable space, and rightfully so, to Story’s attempts as both judge and legal treatise writer to create a uniform commercial law for the early 19th-century United States. Story, a New Englander, believed that the nation’s future depended on commercial growth and that constitutional and common law could be shaped by judges to advance emerging American enterprise. By the 1830’s, Story was somewhat of a judicial anachronism, as Jacksonian judicial philosophy, which was willing to sacrifice some vested property interests on the altar of dynamic and expansive economic growth, replaced many of the Marshall Era values. Newmyer attributes Story’s resistance to change to the justice’s principled application of “legal science” in defense of republican values. One might just as easily interpret Story’s approach as legal formalism designed to arrest the tide of a more democratic capitalism.

The Private World: Selections from the Diario Intimo and Selected Letters 1890— 1936, by Miguel de Unamuno.Princeton $32.50

Unamuno is Spain’s most interesting and unnerving modern thinker. This new translation of two segments of his most personal writings (Vol.2 of the Bollingen Series Selected Works of Miguel de Unamuno) adds important details to the picture we have of a deep, brooding man who feared the nothingness of death and yet who delighted children with his folded paper tricks. The Diary tracks Unamuno’s spiritual and personal musings following his devastating religious crisis of 1897 and contains suggestions of issues he would grapple with later in works such as Vida de Don Quijote, Niebla and Del sentimiento tragico de la vida. The letters provide an important gloss on his novelistic and philosophical development.

Mikhail Bakhtin, by Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist. Harvard $25

Katarina Clark and Michael Holquist love Mikhail Bakhtin not wisely but too well. Professors at Indiana University, they know Bakhtin’s ideas pretty well but are at a loss to explain his personality, and they are rather naïve about the society—Russia— in which this interesting thinker lived. Bakhtin was a master of many disciplines, of which the one that fascinates Clark and Holquist most is semiotics; it is not clear that they understand his real contributions in this field, however. They are better when they deal with his work on Freud and Rabelais.

Brigham Young: American Moses, by Leonard J. Arrington.Knopf $24.95

This fair-minded, fully researched, and well-written biography of the guiding genius of the Mormons from 1844 to 1877 is likely to become the standard work for years to come. As a practicing Mormon the author has not sidestepped any controversies but has not harped on them, either. Young emerges as a decisive, practical, forceful leader who is faithful to Mormonism “for the simple reason that it embraces all truth in heaven and on earth.” His many marriages, resulting in 57 children, are fully treated. When his family sat down for dinner one of the wives counted “seventy-five of us. . . including the hired help.”

The Soong Dynasty, by Sterling Seagrave.Harper & Row $22.50

The author of this disturbing biography is wisely said to be living in seclusion in Southeast Asia to protect himself and his family. His graphic and well-documented expose of Chiang Kai-shek and all of his corrupt-to-the-core in-laws with their Chinese Triads and Tongs, who viciously hoodwinked American leaders such as President F.D.R.and publisher Henry Luce and thereby lost China to the Communists, is as enlightening as it is disconcerting. The Soongs hands down easily replace the Borgias as the family to have played the most evil and destructive role in human destiny. The standard history books of this era will now have to be rewritten.

Louise Bogan: A Portrait, by Elizabeth Frank. Knopf $24.95

This remarkable poet, who only in a limited way has ever been properly appreciated, is here the subject of a full and well-colored portrait. Ms. Frank has put together everything that she could find out about Louise Bogan from friends and relatives and from her work: the incomplete prose probings into herself, the short stories, the critical essays and reviews, letters, and, the root of all, the poems themselves. One of the best things about this biography is the generous use of the poems in their natural place in the life. The life and the poems thus intermeshed make each clearer and more understandable. It would be hard to overrate this work.

A Vietcong Memoir, by Truong Nhu Tang.Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $17.95

Truong Nhu Tang was a founder of the National Liberation Front—the political arm of the Vietcong—and after the 1975 victory he became minister of justice. A South Vietnamese, he was never as doctrinaire as the hardened Northerners, whose domination of post-1975 South Vietnam he came to resent bitterly. In 1979 he made his escape to the West. His memoir tells us less than we would like to know, about the inner mechanisms of the Vietcong’s political wing, and Tang is all too silent about the atrocities of the movement to which he devoted so much of his life. His book is nevertheless well worth reading.

Cavour, by Denis Mack Smith.Knopf $18.95

Camille de Cavour was the architect of the modern Italian state, which came into being in the same year the United States plunged into Civil War. A bookish plodder compared to his two great contemporaries, Garibaldi and Mazzini, he was nevertheless more successful than they in harnessing the energies of the Italian populace and using them to create Italy. His personality has heretofore eluded biographers, but Professor Smith of Oxford has captured Cavour in all his brilliance and his maddening contradictions. A superb study.

Mississippi Writers: Reflections of Childhood and Youth. Vol. I: Fiction, edited by Dorothy Abbott.Mississippi $35 cloth, $14.95 paper

There is nothing special to look at in Mississippi. If you are from the deep South, this marvelous volume will flood you with memories, pleasant and unpleasant, but what makes these stories resound is the way great writers look at the things of childhood. Mississippi, dull as it is, has its share of people who can see angels in dusty magnolia trees. Among those represented in this fine bedside book, are Richard Wright, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Willie Morris, Barry Hannah, Walker Percy, Ellen Gilchrist, and many very good, less heralded writers.

The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy, by Thomas Hardy. Edited by Michael Millgate.Georgia $35

Originally published in 1928 and 1930 as a two-volume biography of Hardy by his widow, this indispensable narrative is now appearing for the first time as an autobiography, which scholars have known it to be for almost half a century. The absence of a version in Hardy’s hand posed awesome editorial challenges, but Michael Millgate, by his own account, has fulfilled his impressive aim of presenting the text as it was at Hardy’s death. He has excluded from the body—and, unhappily, without appropriate notation therein—insertions by Hardy’s widow and friends. These passages, which include important anecdotes, resurface inconveniently in an appendix. Millgate has also resurrected passages deleted by Mrs. Hardy. Owing to the necessary restoration of this material, Hardy appears (as Millgate acknowledges) less appealing than in the earlier “biography,” placing “what seems an excessive valuation on his entree into fashionable London circles” and displaying “a consistent hostility” toward critics.

LITERARY STUDIES Renaissance Tragedy and the Senecan Tradition, by Gordon Braden.Yale $21

In his second major treatment of the relationship between Classical and Renaissance literature, Braden analyzes the precise nature of the influence Senecan tragedy exerts upon the dramatic conventions of early modern Europe. While the author’s account of the Latin tradition’s eventual bifurcation toward the neoclassicism of Corneille and toward Shakespeare’s great tragedies proves accute and convincing, the book’s true impact concentrates in the powerful, engrossing explication of the complexities involved in Senecan stoicism, especially as manifested in the Roman philosopher’s plays. In its entirety the study far outstrips any previous attempt to trace out this problematic question of historical development and richly deserves the authoritative status it will likely secure.

Marginalia: II, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, edited by George Whalley. Princeton $90

Coleridge finished only a handful of the many grandiose philosophic and literary works which he planned, so that his fragmentary notebooks and even his marginalia remain some of our best guides to his thought. The 1,207 dense (and beautifully produced) pages of this, part 2 of what will be five volumes of marginalia edited by George Whalley in the Bollingen edition of the Works, takes us from C to H (Camden to Hutton), and includes Coleridge’s annotations to Cowley, Dante, Donne, Herbert, Defoe, and Fielding (among literary writers), and Eichorn, Fichte, Hegel, Herder, and Hobbes (philosophers). Whalley’s own learning, found in his frequent and useful notes and explanations of context, is nearly as extraordinary as Coleridge’s; even before his arduous project is done, we may expect that Whalley will have opened the way for many new approaches to Coleridge the poet, philosopher, and critic.

The Poetics of Belief, by Nathan A. Scott, Jr.North Carolina $24

This book examines Coleridge, Arnold, Pater, Santayana, Stevens, and Heidegger for their celebration of the imagination which contrasts with the doctrine of the intelligibility of the world through reason alone. In its own reason and imagination, the work provides irresistible testimony to the validity of its theme—that reason and imagination are part of a single vision that constitutes the true mode of creative comprehension.

Alexander Pope, by Laura Brown. Blackwell $19.95 cloth, $6.95 paper

This short essay from Terry Eagleton’s new series of Marxist critical studies, Rereading Literature, attempts to “demystify” Pope by finding in his verse unconscious evidences of a class ideology: an ideology rooted in capitalism, imperialism, and the “commodification” of people in society. The grandiosity of the project far outstrips its results. Leaving aside the point that capitalism and imperialism barely yet existed in the England of Pope’s time—a point Brown herself admits—the reader will find here a series of discussions of very familiar topics (the meanings of “nature” in An Essay on Criticism, Belinda’s dressing-table in The Rape of the Lock) to which have been subjoined often strikingly unwarranted conclusions. Whenever the poet claims moral knowledge he becomes an idealist illicitly “objectifying” the ideology of his class, but whenever (as is very often) he displays dazzling selfunderstanding or self-deprecating irony, Brown does not hear.

The Status and Appraisal of Classic Texts, by Conal Condren.Princeton $27.50

Condren addresses an important subject with great insight and intelligence. He argues forcefully that the conventional structure and orthodox beliefs of political theory, as well as the vocabulary of originality, contribution, influence, coherence, and ambiguity used in the appraisal of texts in political theory, are not reliable guides to the understanding and evaluation of such works, nor do they provide satisfactory explanations of why certain of these works are considered classics. Condren attempts to reform the vocabulary of appraisal for works in political theory and to provide a better explanation of classic status. Although Condren’s discussion is concerned most immediately with texts in political theory, many of his points have a more general application in the study of texts in the history of ideas.

Lukács and Brecht, by David Pike.North Carolina $29.95

Georg Lukács and Bertolt Brecht were “tyrannophiles,” Professor Pike asserts; their commitments to Stalin and dogmatic Stalinism blinded them to major historical truths about both communism and fascism, robbed them of intellectual integrity, and made them in effect collaborators in Stalin’s crimes. The questions Pike raises are important questions, disturbing questions, and they demand to be asked in serious ways. For all his genuine learning and meticulous documentation, however, Pike never seems able to get serious. He remains too consistently on the level of invective and innuendo. He seems persuaded that he is in possession of all the hard answers, that he has solved in advance the problems with which Lukács, Brecht, and countless other Left intellectuals struggled in dark times. He adopts the tone of a prosecutor, denies his subjects even the possibility of honesty or decency, and in argument relies heavily on sarcasm, repetition, and the rhetorical question. His own ideological assumptions, unacknowledged and unexamined, are wielded with a ruthlessness that make him seem curiously like the true believers against whom he fulminates.Lukács and Brecht should have been an important book. It is not. Instead it is an exercise in literary cold war rhetoric.

Robert Burns and the Sentimental Era, by Carol McGuirk. Georgia $25

Though one of the most popular of British poets, Burns’ critical fortunes have steadily fallen since Matthew Arnold’s essay on him of a century ago. Critics find it difficult to place Burns’ dialect verse in the larger tradition of Augustan literature, and so ignore it. In her well-written and wellargued new book, Carol McGuirk locates Burns securely in the tradition of Pope and Sterne and finds in his language not pure vernacular but a powerful mixture of high and low diction from both learned and popular sources. She reads all the major verse both for its relation to earlier Augustan writing and in terms of Burns’ special sentimental inversion of Auld Licht Calvinism. There emerges from her book a more interesting and important Burns than we have read in some time.

Pageantry in the Shakespearean Theater, edited by David M.Bergeron. Georgia $26

As Professor Bergeron points out in his introduction, the past decade has been a fertile one for studies of Renaissance pageantry, and this collection of essays clearly demonstrates how sophisticated our thinking about the topic has become. The book’s first section, featuring pieces by Stephen Orgel and the editor, takes a broader overview of pageantry’s significance for the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage; this is followed by a somewhat weaker unit, examining the histories. The three essays comprising the third and final part offer several unanticipated and intriguing applications of the idea of pageantry to the dramatist’s outlook toward his craft.

Metamagical Themas, by Douglas R. Hofstadter. Basic Books $24.95

Subtitled “Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern” and further described as an “Interlocked Collection of Literary, Scientific and Artistic Studies,” this volume collects the author’s Scientific American columns and seven other pieces, all of which focus on the problem of perception and thought, especially analogical. A subsidiary concern is the apathy with which humanity regards its own flirtation with suicide. Throughout he argues that the models provided by science and its subjacent metaphors not only explain the world but direct us toward saner courses of action. The conclusion may be naively optimistic, but the process through which Hoftstadter reaches it is fascinating in and for itself.

The Literary Vorticism of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis: Towards the Condition of Painting, by Reed Way Dasenbrock. Johns Hopkins $25

This is a book interesting in its theoretical proposals but frustrating in its execution. Dasenbrock proposes to explain how “the arts influence each other while at the same time remaining themselves,” as well as to attend to the difference between how specifiable a term can be in one art as opposed to another.” But, too often, one gets the feeling that Dasenbrock is far more interested in conventional evaluation. He doesn’t like much of his subject matter— and says so. Rather than studying works like Lewis’s Enemy of the Stars with attention to the ground for its experimentations, he concludes merely that Lewis was “innovating simply to be modern,” and that Enemy “ is a terrible botch of a narrative.” So much for exploring new ground and opening up new ways of thinking.

FICTION Captain Maximus, by Barry Hannah. Knopf $11.95

Hannah’s stories worship power and pain. In this, the third straight intolerably brief book by the Mississippi writer, the reader will find plenty of motorcycles, fish knives, jet aircraft, and women so perfect they make men cry out, “There is a bad God.” Several of these stories show Hannah at his best, suspending whole worlds between sentences. Two of the lovelorn wanderer stories, however, are pretty dull, and the longest work in the collection, a filmscript written for Robert Altaian, lacks Hannah’s best voice and truest eye.

Secret Villages, by Douglas Dunn.Dodd, Mead $15.95

With a voice at home in Scottish rhythms, Dunn sketches the small-town landscape in which he places the villages of his tide. They are secret not because they are hidden but simply unseen. Dunn’s craft is to portray in understated tones these undemoticed places. Nine of these tales will be familiar to readers of the New Yorker, where they appeared first. All 16 are worth a second look—full of well captured dialect and quiet irony. Dunn proves that there is more to write about than modern nihilism and urban angst. He makes one yearn for the civil pace of rural Scotland.

Inventing Ivanov, by Roberta Smoodin. Atheneum $15.95

Humbert Humbert he is not, but Ivan Ivanov thinks he is. Roberta Smoodin has taken a device common among Russian writers, the invention of yet another author, and she has done more to discredit it than most of her predecessors. Her novel about Ivanov, who died in Los Angeles in 1983 and left a modest literary legacy, is a joke within a joke within a cliché, and it is not very funny. Miss Smoodin is a talented writer but—at least on the evidence of this book—a poor judge of what works. Not recommended.

Reasons to Live, by Amy Hempel. Knopf $11.95

This batch of 15 selections has the smell of death about it. There is illness, abortion, flood, fire, and the mayhem of a car wreck. We have a dying friend, the demise of pets and other animals of less intimate acquaintence, and memories of a dead mother. Madness also abounds. In the midst of all this darkness, Hempel attempts, by understated narration, to show the reader the brief patches of light that make survival a reasonable choice. If a reader were sympathetic to the narrator in the initial piece—a two-page sketch on suicide—one doubts that the “reasons to live” that follow would be all that convincing.

Hellconia Winter, by Brian Aldiss. Atheneum $17.95

This is the final installment in the Hellconia trilogy, a series that has garnered many awards and rich praise. Like many other speculative fiction writers, Aldiss has created a strange world for his characters. Unlike other creations, however, this one contains convincing biological and cultural complexity and human ambiguity. On Hellconia each season lasts many generations: in Winter the planet moves into that phase more suitable to the nonhuman native creatures, threatening human individuals and institutions. In response the ruling oligarchy government tightens its repressive rule. Those individuals marked for survival find in such convulsive resistance to the natural cycles of their world the essential threat to human existence. Without preaching, Aldiss builds his evolutionary epic upon a moral foundation applicable to our own world. The beauty, detail, and texture of Hellconia Winter conclude a magnificent biology.

Ardabiola, by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. St. Martin’s $11.95

Mr. Yevtushenko, the noted Soviet poet, filmmaker, public figure, and perennial prodigal son, has written an unusually sensitive parable about a young man’s discovery of a cure for cancer. He has done the impossible, mating a plant and an insect, but no one, especially not fate, will listen to him. Yevtushenko’s point is that the world is a very foolish place because we make it so, and that the way out of the morass must lie in unexplored ideas.

Rough Translations, by Molly Giles. Georgia $13.95

A woman encounters her former father-in-law and cannot decide what to say. She feels, in starts, tender, angry, defensive. She says nothing, as if answering her story’s title: “What Do You Say?” A husband, stretching his disbelief in the face of his cancerous wife’s death, plans next year’s vacation with her and tries to rouse her to life. He too cannot find the right words to convey the parade of emotions with which he is faced. The words that are left are only approximations—rough translations—for the internal dialogues these characters hold with themselves. Giles gives clear voices to her characters throughout these dozen stories and captures both the sound and feel of the hidden inner rooms of their souls.

Scorpio Rising, by R. G. Vliet. Random House $16.95

This story runs backward in time from 1976 to 1907 to 1904.It is full of badness: bad deeds, bad emotions, bad grammar (intentional). The author died days after completing this book, if indeed it is complete. He wrote once that he was conscious of what must be the strangeness of his novels to others (how right he was!) but, said he, “my vision seems to me so clear and true, the compulsive passion behind it so powerful, and my demands upon the language so necessary to me that I don’t believe I can write any other way.” That is the best explanation that can be given of Scorpio Rising.

A Shock to the System, by Simon Brett. Scribner’s $13.95

This is a tale of four murders. The first was accidental. The other three were planned. The account of these plans and their fulfillment takes up most of the book. In the end the successful murderer is tripped up by his essential lack of human feeling. If this summary seems bare and banal, so is the book.

The Tenth Man, by Graham Greene. Simon & Schuster $14.95

Surprisingly, considering its 41 years of neglect even by its own author, The Tenth Man is not some forgettable hack work dug up and published only because anything by Graham Greene sells these days. In fact, it is a good, if not great, novella. Unlike so many 20th-century characters, progeny of Kafka’s K., Greene’s protagonist is more than just a victim: he is a moral man caught in a moral dilemma, one he helped engender. Chavel’s efforts to deal with his predicament make him a convincing character, a satisfying focus for the book. The novella, unfortunately, should have been a novel: Chavel’s antagonists are only sketched in, only come to life as impingements on Chavel. If they had been more fully developed—and the potential is there—The Tenth Man could have been one of Greene’s masterpieces.

The Long Shadow, by Anna Gilbert. St. Martin’s $15.95

This is a surprisingly good romantic suspense novel. Once or twice in the earlier chapters, the adolescent narrator is slightly clumsy with a couple of “Had I but known then. . . .” chapter endings, but other than that, Ms. Gilbert does a fine job of developing sensitively drawn and well-crafted characters, not the usual stereotypes. She gives us altogether believable and interesting villains (actually, villainesses), a similarly believable narrator-protagonist, and even a nicely understated mid-Victorian background during the heyday of Britain’s Industrial Revolution. The expected coincidences are here but extremely deftly and inoffensively handled. The love interest is likewise understated and expertly manipulated. Definitely a cut above the usual romantic suspense or Gothic novel—and very close at times to what we usually call “serious fiction.”

Metro, by Alexander Kaletski. Viking $17.95

This is another ambitious novel by a recent Soviet emigre anxious to purge himself of the bitterness and pain of his departure from his native country. Mr. Kaletski has assembled a clutch of bizarre characters whose chief passion seems to be to keep as busy as possible without doing anything. They speak in the self-consciously melancholy tones of people who have heard of Franz Kafka, they fornicate because they seem to think no one would read about them if they did not, and they try valiantly to convey the intellectual prison that is the Communist state. Unfortunately, Kaletski lacks the talent to make all this either art or truth.

Mr. and Mrs. Baby and Other Stories, by Mark Strand.Knopf $11.95

This fine poet might have done better to call these pieces “fictions” rather than “stories.” Often brief, they lack the intricate webbing of plot, setting, and characterization of traditional short stories. They more resemble fables. The same deadpan voice speaks all of the first-person “fictions,” although the Is range from a young man who is always encountering a new reincarnation of his dead father (in “More Life,” perhaps the most engaging of the lot), to a young Roman whose love life becomes the affair of meddlesome gods. Other memorable pieces include “True Loves,” a short chronicle of the narrator’s true loves in between his five star-crossed marriages, and “Dog Life,” where a man in bed with his wife admits to his previous life as a collie. The discrepancy between the outrageousness of the occurrences and the maddening evenness of the narrative voice makes for much charm and humor.

Wilt on High, by Tom Sharpe. Random House $13.95

Maybe something was lost in the translation. Tom Sharpe is a popular British novelist, and it is easy to see why. His antihero, Henry Wilt, is a much-put-upon, decent chap whose wife slips him an aphrodisiac that causes him more than a little grief; his colleagues at a miserable technical school scheme to lead him to the gallows; and the U.S.Air Force has it in for him. It might add up to something, but it does not. A few funny lines do not make a comic novel, and this one just has nothing going for it.

Alice Through the Needle’s Eye, by Gilbert Adair. Dutton $11.95

Borges’ Pierre Menard wrote a Don Quixote identical with Cervantes’ book but different from it, because it was written several centuries later. Gilbert Adair has not written Lewis Carroll’s two books, but has written a third volume, though identical in spirit with the original Alice books, or nearly so. Purists, scholars, and amateurs of Alice will detect little post-Victorian clues in the book. Nevertheless, this is a remarkable, successful parody of Carroll, witty, highly amusing, and filled with the kind of wordplay Alice’s creator would have admired. Spelling-bees who collect letters, a Country Mouse who speaks cockney, and Hide-and-Seek Park are but part of this delightful wonderland.

POETRY Late Settings, by James Merrill.Atheneum $6.95

Long established as one of the finest American poets, James Merrill’s latest collection continues to dazzle us with brilliant wit, elegant forms, and an urbane, welltraveled array of subjects. These poems, mostly shorter ones but some several pages long, give us more of his buoyant, polished style, and for a touch of the playful clairvoyance we’ve seen in his Ouija board poems, there is “From the Cutting-Room Floor,” a dialogue with some dead writers. Merrill’s most impressive feat is delving into the most ponderous matters of life and death, God, love, and justice, with a refusal to be solemn or single-minded, maintaining a debonair ironic tone and ingenious rhyme and meter. His “figments” of rhetorical surface are always delicately balanced against the “depth wish” of significance.

The Near World, by Carl Dennis.Morrow $12.95

Carl Dennis’ fourth collection glows with a calm, wise vision, an authority not calling attention to itself or its subtle craftsmanship. These quiet, expansive meditations, alike in their steady tranquil tone, keep reaching out in new and surprising directions. Dennis is equally at home with landscapes, narratives, myths, elegies on Cezanne, Gogol, John Gardner, and descriptions of Puritans and Shakers. While there are few sharp contrasts or startling images, he always finds scope large enough to reconcile conflicts or transcend losses. The work of a gentle soul mindful of community as well as network, this is a welcome collection of fine, compassionate poems.

The Fountain if Other Fables, by Frederick Morgan. Pterodactyl Press $15

In these short prose fables Morgan has found a charming vehicle for his imagination. Both the poet’s and storyteller’s talents are evident in the surrealistic turns of event, with many mordant twists at the end. Whether solemn, playful, or ironic, the narrator achieves the tone of an ancient genre. Full of emblematic landscapes, magic and mystery, the outcomes of these fables range from happy to horrible to puzzling. This is a small but pleasingly designed book, though marred by a number of misprints.

The Wind of Our Going, by Patricia Goedicke.Copper Canyon Press $8

This collection, though ambitious in size and scope, is not as powerful overall as some of Goedicke’s other books. The poems try to cover too much ground, to sum up her experience and present an overview of poetry. Also, writing about political and economic oppression in the world is always a difficult undertaking for poets, producing such lines as “What is a block vote against steam shovels?” (Ms. Goedicke has recently moved back to the U.S.after 15 years living and writing in Mexico.) The attitude behind these poems is admirable, a generous spirit reaching out toward friends and all humanity, hopeful in the belief in connections that endure and encourage. But the poems often seem strained, watered down, meandering. There is too much insistence on couplets and single lines, which don’t merit so much attention. Nevertheless, there are some fine poems here, including “The Reading Club” and “The Structures We Love,” and many memorable images dispersed among these meditative poems.

Assumptions, by Marilyn Hacker. Knopf $14.95 cloth, $8.95 paper.

Hacker is back, and her fourth volume, full of the joyful noise that has been aptly called the “colloquial sublime,” is a gem. Her lush imagination seems poised and confident as she enters middle age, and her good common sense about all matters stylistic seems as rock-solid as ever. Here is a poet one can read at the breakfast table, at the bus stop, at the bedside; she takes her subjects from the mundane affairs of daily life and ennobles them with her exquisite sense of decorum. She has that rare gift of modulation; her language is so keenly responsive to her materials that it is as if the one has created the other. And in one sense—the most crucial one for a poet—I suppose it has.

Shekkinah, by Eleanor Wilner. Chicago $15

No one will doubt Wilner’s intelligence. Chocked full of allusions and references to mythologies both well known and obscure, the book asks its reader to understand the rational argument, to appreciate the importance of several ideas embodied in even the most fanciful myths of the Western tradition. Wilner approaches these tales from a feminist perspective, and therein lies the organizing voice of her work: she attempts, in effect, an overhaul of some of our most cherished fictions. And she should be commended for her ambition, even though the language of these poems is often weary, and her raptures on the psychological dimensions of our myths often seem dated.

The Oxford Book of Children’s Verse in America, edited by Donald Hall. Oxford $18.95

Is it possible that somewhere children still learn to recite poetry? If so, this volume will provide a nice batch of verse for practice. There are poems by Poe, Dickinson, Riley, and Bryant. Of course, Frost and Sandburg appear. More of a surprise are Shel Silverstein, Ogden Nash, and John Updike. And Broadway has reminded the editor that Eliot wrote about cats along with Prufrock. The attention to chronology—each few decades from Jamestown to today represented—was probably unnecessary. But it is hard to fault a collection with both “Paul Revere’s Ride” and “Casey at the Bat.”

The Monkey Wars, by Bruce Weigl. Georgia $10.95 cloth, $6.95 paper

For obvious and well intentioned reasons, it is difficult nowadays to speak of Weigl’s poetry without mentioning the Vietnam poems; they are, by turns, appalled, entranced, loving, enraged. And no one should miss them. But the other poems, which constitute the great majority of this collection, are equally compelling. There are steel workers and mourning doves, squabbling newlyweds and a battered wife, and as their stories unfold, so too does Weigl’s delicacy, a tenderness and care that is part of his craft: his poems remind us, no, show us, that free verse is a demanding verse form.

Henry Purcell in Japan, by Mary Jo Salter.Knopf $13.95

This is Salter’s first book, and several of its strengths promise a more accomplished second book: a healthy wit, an ear for a literary language that seems a conversational language; and an indiscriminate curiosity whose vehicle happily happens to be poetry. These are sustaining qualities, qualities that resist fashion and artifice. Yet there is throughout Salter’s verse a note of urbanity that jars—it is an urbanity censorious in its implications, quaint in its tone. But no matter. Salter will grow and mature, and the indications in this collection are that it will be a development well worth our attention.

Rules of Sleep, by Howard Moss. Atheneum $12.95 cloth, $6.95 paper

Warmth and elegance are amply evident in Howard Moss’s 11th collection of verses. In “Rome: The Night Before,” for instance, one reads “We lived high up in Roman air, looked down / On a summer resort of corrugated stone, / Echo and rotunda, footfall, dome— / History turning corners everywhere. . . .” Here, as with most of the poems in this exquisitely designed volume, one senses not only Moss’s unruffled ardor for his subjects, but—and this is what truly distinguishes a major poet from a minor one—his keen perceptiveness of them, as well.

The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New, 1950—1984, by Adrienne Rich. Norton $18.95 cloth, $9.95 paper

At times Rich’s dialectical fire has reduced her verses to mere manifestoes and propaganda. Still, in her 30 or so years of writing, she has produced some truly marvelous poetry. This volume, a chronicle of her development from an emulator of Yeats and Auden to a lesbian separatist and advocate of a newly defined female literature, is a wonderful (and handsome) introduction to and overview of Rich’s feverish and often memorable work.

Navigable Waterways, by Pamela Alexander. Yale $12.95 cloth, $5.95 paper

This is the winning volume for the 1984 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition, and Merrill’s choice is, well, an odd one; certainly there was not another manuscript in the bunch like it. Attenuated but rigorously attentive to detail, Alexander’s poems are likely to find their subjects on the couch (a cat), in the pantry (tea), in the water (fish), and everywhere (air). She rigorously avoids confession, and her word”hoard is largely an intellectual one; she has naturally, it seems, a linguistic sense of humor that Wittgenstein would have applauded, and she is not ashamed of it. Her first book is a puzzling one, and vigorously so.

Other Lives, by Christopher Buckley. Ithaca House $6

These gentle, fervent poems in the pastoral mode are attentive to family and friends, nostalgia for past decades, and evoking the California landscape. There are elegies for artists, poets, relatives, and old movies, and many are personally dedicated. Deeply rooted in a spiritual framework, Buckley strives to contain loss and disappointment within an atmosphere of purity and grace. A luminous quality pervades all his work, though also a lack of dramatic movement and a diminished evenness of tone. But forcefulness would perhaps be out of keeping with the steady lyrical beauty of this collection.

Wyndmere, by Carol Muske. Pittsburgh $6.95

Carol Muske’s third collection reflects a tone of calm assurance, and skillful transformations of imagery. The title is the name of the town in North Dakota where her mother was born as was the concept of wind mother. The poems are delicate and graceful, sometimes daring in their combination of disparate elements. She focuses on relatives, travels and art in Italy, plane flights, former lovers, Keats and Tolstoy, her actor husband and her newborn daughter. The power of loss and the complications of even our most promising love are two resonant themes in this book.

Where Water Comes Together with Other Water, by Raymond Carver. Random House $13.95

In the title poem, Carver conveys his imaginative rebirth through an image of water flowing from its source: “Can anything be more wonderful than a spring?” Carver’s best poems, in fact, deal with his relationship to natural objects—whether creeks and “the music they make” or estuaries, “the places where water comes together with other water.” Whereas Carver deplores the fragility of human relationships, he feels an indissoluble bond with nature. But his depiction of nature is not romantic; it is unglorified and uncompromising. He rejuvenates his weary spirit through ordinary events—walks in the woods or sojourns beside rivers—and it is a testament to his power as a poet to make readers feel the magical effect these ordinary events have on him. Admirers of Carver’s fiction may be surprised to learn that this collection of poems is his fourth book of poetry.

Each Leaf Shines Separate, by Rosanna Warren. Norton $14.95 cloth, $6.95 paper

Warren, having studied painting at Yale, is at her best when she focuses upon painters, paintings, and landscapes. A particularly fetching passage from this impressive first collection reads, “Unease among the oaks: massed leaves stirred / high from their hush, sheltered birds trilled / in cool and quickening air. I thought / that warbling might have saved us./ I was wrong.”

IS5, by e. e. cummings, edited by George James Firmage. Liveright $6.95

Firmage’s edition of IS5 (1926) is the latest in the Liveright series “The Cummings Typescript Editions.” The reader who compares this edition with that in the Complete Poems will not discover major changes of words or punctuation. Rather, the logic of this edition is to be found in its fidelity to Cumming’s own belief that it is “impossible” to retranslate [his] poems out of typewriter, language into linotype-ese, without, as Firmage explains, distorting the spatial value of the works. Cummings’ orientation to the visual dimension of his poems has often proved a stumbling block for his readers. We recognize that poetry is an aural phenomenon, and ignore the implications of print for our perception. Firmage’s edition may contribute to our awareness of the interplay between these dimensions, an awareness which should greatly improve our appreciation of Cummings’ work.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS American Freedom and the Social Sciences, by James Deese. Columbia $25

There’s nothing quite like the fun of good, old-fashioned muckraking; and how much greater the fun when it is a distinguished senior psychologist who tells us that 30 years of work in cognitive psychology, and 60 years of work in social psychology, have been—the word is Deese’s— “worthless.” Deese starts from the perception that the determinism of modern social scientists is at odds with the principles on which democracy is founded and proceeds to a critique of psychological determinism as it has cropped up in behaviorism, social psychology, psychohistory, and anthropology. Elegantly managed examples—and delicious demolitions of modern text-books— accompany a simply stated but quite cogent philosophical critique of all who pretend to give causal explanations of human action, and of all who do so in the name of “science.” Deese ends with a compelling defense of a view that perhaps only a handful of older writers (such as Brand Blanshard) are now willing to hold, that reason itself is sometimes our motivation in what we do. Taking timely current examples, Deese has written a delightful defense of some very old principles; his books should go on our shelves beside Morgenthau on statistics and Andrevsky on The Social Sciences as Sorcery.

Freedom Rising, by James North. Macmillan $19.95

James North—a pseudonym for American journalist Dan Swanson—traveled across South Africa for four years, and has produced a book of extreme topicality and intensity. There has been a crying need for a readable, in-depth portrait of what it is like to be in South Africa, written for the perspective of the American reader. North fills this void. The situation in South Africa makes a mockery of the tired, clichéd norm of “objective” or “neutral” journalism; those who are uncertain of just how crushing the oppression and racism of the National Party regime really is need merely to consult Freedom Rising. But while North makes no secret of his political persuasions, he does attempt to hear all sides: the views of Afrikaaners, English South Africans, Asians, and “coloreds” (that peculiarly artificial category), as well as the voices of blacks from townships and homelands (Bantustans) all emerge from these pages. North is particularly skillful at humanizing and bringing home the suffering of South Africa’s blacks—usually rendered so impersonally on today’s news pages— while at the same time explaining the complex reasons for the rise of apartheid. For anyone whose sense of social justice is not completely numb, a book not to be missed.

The Election of 1984, edited by Gerald Pomper. Chatham House $20

Instant analyses of presidential elections are always chancy, whether done by journalists or political scientists. This short volume of essays avoids many of the usual pitfalls but tells less about both the 1984 campaign and its aftermath than one would like. None of the essays—on such subjects as the nominating contests, campaign issues, public opinion, the congressional elections, and “the meaning of it all”— covers much new ground, though the authors’ conclusions are generally sound and perceptive. One of the essayists, bemoaning the triumph of style over substance in American politics, recalled Johnny Carson’s version of Gary Hart’s appeal: “Vote for me, I have Kennedy hair.” Carson’s remark was at least as memorable and telling as anything else said in the eminently forgettable and rather dismal 1984 presidential saga, capsuled anew in this book.

Against Fragmentation: The Origi


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