David Rubin’s short but significant book on the French lyric in the early 17th century is a must for all those interested in poetry, stylistics, rhetoric, and the linguistic and intellectual processes that result in the production of a literary work. What strikes the reader immediately is the depth and rigor of the analytical method as well as the clarity of the argument which is informed by a rich background in all things 17th century and classical. The analyses are perceptive and unencumbered by the obfuscating jargons of modern literary theory.
Marilyn Butler has written an unusually valuable history of English literature from 1760 to 1830. Her interpretation of “history” involves an interrelation of political, social, economic, and literary activities. She is cognizant of the variety of activities that result from such involvements, and she prefers “inchoate” to “coherence” as the term to characterize Romanticism. Any book that ranges so widely tends to make generalizations that cannot be fully discussed but that are required as the basis for linkages among texts and events. But granting the limitation, the book does provide valuable insights for understanding the transition from neoclassic to Romantic English literature.
New claims for Spenser’s debt to Vergil and John Chrysostom, an adjustment to the usual interpretation of the Allegory of Justice, an interesting literary analysis of A View of the Present State of Ireland, as well as an ambitious new approach to Elizabethan quantitative meter, and the most sternly moralistic reading of Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella in print: a high level of scholarly documentation, but no strong house voice or (a brief epilogue notwithstanding) sense of common enterprise—a yearbook of distinguished specialization.
In this major work of comparative literature, the author provides an extensive upto-date treatment of a major genre: its constituents, permutations, and combinations. Weinbrot’s major theses—that Pope was more Juvenalian than Horatian and that his work was more variegated than previously thought—repose on a solid foundation of theory, as well as textual analysis—not only of Pope but his major sources as well. Particularly impressive is Weinbrot’s treatment of Pope’s French models—the satires of Régnier and Boileau—wherein he matches the best criticism of Jules Brody and Susan Teifenbrun.
This study of Theodore Roethke’s literary and personal mysticism is thesis-ridden and fraught with all sorts of biographical, philosophical, and metaphysical perils. But if tempered with a sense of the metaphorical and a lively skepticism (particularly about the analogy of mental illness and mystical illumination), it yields a critical analysis of considerable sophistication, insight, and power. Bowers’ assumptions and method provide access to both Roethke’s entire career and individual poems; he is particularly good on the early work and the various sequences. The verbal repetitiousness and persistent claims of profundity are probably more Roethke’s problem than Bowers’.
In Theories of Symbol, Todorov made a dramatic shift of focus: away from the structuralist and semiotic models that had informed his earlier books to history, psychology, and philosophy. Symbolism and Interpretation not only confirms this shift but deepens and broadens the perspectives opened by Theories of Symbol. With his habitual clarity of exposition and grasp of idea, Todorov here reviews rhetorical theories of linguistic symbolism and the various models proposed for its interpretation from Aristotle to Hirsch. Todorov’s conclusions are not only judicious but also promise to be a healthy influence in the age of postDerridean reconstruction.
We generally regard Chekhov as the chronicler of the Russian fin de siècle, the talented artist who described a doomed world of weary aristocrats and fumbling intellectuals who seemed to be sleepwalking even as they stumbled toward revolution. But the country doctor turned writer was also a writer of comedies and farces, few of which are known in the West. Professor Gottlieb of the University of London has rescued this aspect of Chekhov’s genius for us and has shown the importance of these neglected works in building the great Russian stage tradition.
Some books are born dull and this is one of them—unnecessarily so. The English women writers and commentators of the 17th century deserve better than this. The vivid, though untrained and sometimes hysterical, writings of the Duchess of New-castle and the rather neurotic, but haunting, poetry of the Countess of Winchilsea certainly deserve better, though one might not say as much for the prose of Mary Astell and Bathsua Makin. Smith might well have extended her discussion to numerous other women writers whom she apparently does not consider feminists, but given her style and fixed approach perhaps it is just as well that she did not.
In a variant of Groucho Marx’ quip that he would not want to belong to a club that would admit him as a member, Leslie Fiedler has a novel explanation of the oftproclaimed death of “English as we have known it”: “It began dying at the moment that people like me were permitted to join the profession.” What Was Literature? is the latest salvo in Fiedler’s ongoing war with the profession that, foolishly or not, admitted him to its ranks, somehow managing to hold him at arm’s length even as it assimilated, appropriated, and pirated his brilliant insights into American literature. The book is by turns exhilarating and exasperating, incisive and wrongheaded. In his passionate attempt to subvert the distinction between high art and popular culture, Fiedler is at his best when he is puncturing the inflated pretensions of modernist criticism. When he turns to “opening up the canon” by treating seriously such works as Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Roots, Fiedler is less persuasive. Although there is nothing in the book to indicate it, the entire second part was published in only slightly different form in 1979 under the title The Inadvertent Epic. Fiedler may be the Inadvertent Professor, but as his latest book proves, he still has much to teach us.
If anyone doubts that the ultimate result of applying Chomskian linguistics to literary criticism is the impoverishment of individual texts, they need only glance at Berke’s analysis of tragedy. The most interesting aspect of this book is the way in which it unintentionally lays bare the rationalistic and essentialist basis of Berke’s linguistics. The useful information in this book is borrowed, unfortunately without acknowledgment, from René Girard. Aside from this, the book has little to recommend it to anyone except the truest believer.
Scrivener writes in his last paragraph: Shelley “was committed to and tried to practice something akin to Jürgen Habermas’s undistorted communication or the ideal speech situation. . . . Living at the beginning of the modern democratic movement, Shelley saw that no democracy worthy of the name was possible without sociopolitical equality, that is, socialism.” The passage reveals the defects of what could and should have been a fine book. Scrivener is trendy and modish in the terms of leftist political and literary theory; he reads Shelley because Shelley embodies some of the views of these favored approaches. His reading of Shelley—not only of the major works, but of much minor verse and prose, seldom commented on—are often genuinely illuminating of Shelley’s political intentions. But when we must read too about the “Oedipal configuration of Shelley’s idealism,” one wonders how much name-and-term dropping is now requisite in order to receive tenure at a large research university.
The appearance of this volume shows that Mexico’s Carlos Fuentes is well on his way to being admitted into the canon of major world authors. Together the 14 essays that comprise this book provide an excellent introduction to Fuentes’ work for the English reading public. Some of the essays take a synoptic view of Fuentes’ literary career; others concentrate on single works. Perhaps the most interesting of the essays is a comparison of Fuentes’ The Death of Artemio Cruz with Citizen Kane, Fuentes himself has said that seeing Welles’ film when he was ten years old was “the single most influential aesthetic thrill” in his life, and Lanin Gyurko shows in great detail how that influence is evident in what many regard as Fuentes’ most powerful novel.
Victorian novelists echo the Puritan allegorical language of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, even as that language has had its meaning changed through the sea-change of Romanticism: God is within, the Book of Life no longer a progress externally measured but a Bildungsroman. Quails’ thesis is not new, but his handling of it is deeply intelligent and persuasive. Separate chapters discuss Carlyle, Charlotte Bronte, Dickens, and George Eliot (the chapter on Dickens is superb), while Bulwer-Lytton, Wordsworth, and further 17th-century figures (such as Quarles) appear for brief but useful illumination. Quails organizes his study around such central images as the orphan, the dunghill, the prison, and the maze, but his greatest merit is for sensing the shape of an entire artistic career, in which all the concerns of the book are interwoven. The Secular Pilgrims could do with more attempts at summary after its long discursive sections, but its trees are so interesting the reader is moved to map out the forest for himself.
Like Steegmuller’s stupendous edition of Flaubert’s letters from 1830 to 1857 (published in 1980), this marvelous volume is more than the selected letters of a great author. Ingeniously and tactfully offering just the right amount and kind of informative, connective commentary between letters, the editor makes Flaubert into the subject of an illusory novel written by an imaginary Flaubert. Obsessed by his craft, the protagonist emerges as a sort of latterday Quixote and proto-Bouvard and Péchuchet. Sainte-Beuve, Taine, Baudelaire, George Sand, and the Goncourts are all here in this panorama of one of the extraordinary epochs in the history of French letters. The philosophical wisdom, wit, and passion, the urbanity, earthiness, and style of Flaubert all bring this age to life.
Imprudent marriages, prodigal children, dubious investments, merciless diseases, and fateful interruptions of other kinds (elections, rejections): this earthy, absorbing material sounds like John Jakes or perhaps this afternoon’s soaps. But historian Paul Nagel eschews the generic and melodramatic in favor of specific, documented daily lives of very real people. They belong to the single enduring American clan, Adams, whose main figures are John and Abigail, John Quincy and Louisa, Charles Francis and Abby and their five children. Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin—none survived as a notable family. Only the Adamses, driven by political and personal passions, influenced the nation for four successive generations, to the 1920’s. In the strange algebra of humanity, for every two or three luminaries there is a dark, defeated soul. And men and women are helplessly divided against themselves. Even though the family purged their hoard of letters and diaries, still almost too much remains of the great issues: ambition, frustration, love, endurance, selfishness, ministration, the quest for identity. And too much material sometimes leads Nagel to hasty synopsizing and trouble with his host of walk-on characters. Still, he is exactly the right person to present this network of vivid stories: lucid, judicious, free of formulaic psychologizing, adept at sketching the national backdrop behind the flesh and blood that seem almost palpable in this book of fascinating human beings.
This obtuse and superficial book is horribly written, packed with clichés and trite quotations from friends and enemies, and lacking in literary insight or critical judgment. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating account of Mailer’s transformation from shy Harvard youth and inept soldier to crude vulgarian and frenetic failure (“At that time in his life Norman was not viewed as Mr. Stability”). After the instant success of The Naked and the Dead, he became a hippocket Hemingway of our time who replaced marlin, bulls, and lions with thumbwrestling, softball, and jogging. He squandered a once prodigious talent, never wrote another good novel, became a puerile patriarch (six wives, eight children), and turned himself into the most verbose and unpleasant American author since Sinclair Lewis. Mills treats a complex personality with a repulsive mixture of schoolgirl adoration and feminist disdain.
At last, here is a biography of one of America’s most courageous women. Helen Douglas Mankin was a state legislator in Georgia in the thirties and forties, and she championed child welfare, education, and women’s rights—all over the opposition of the powerful governor, Eugene Talmadge. In 1946 she ran against 16 men in a special election to fill an unexpired congressional term, and she won, by daring to court the black vote. Her tenure in Congress was limited to one year, as the political leadership of the state engineered her defeat in a bid for reelection. Though she never again held elective office, Mankin deserves a place in history for seeking at an early date to be a representative of both races in state and national government. Author Lorraine Spritzer deserves commendation for committing Mankin’s life to well-written prose.
The author of this first of a promised three-volume life of Henry Adams has clearly lived with his materials for many years. Chalfant knows them so intimately as to give the illusion that he was actually a close friend of Adams. This book contains a wealth of details about how Adams lived as a Harvard undergraduate, as a student abroad, and as his father’s secretary in London during the American Civil War that is absent from other studies of Adams. The book is a healthy corrective to the Education, in which Adams depicts himself as a failure. Still, the corrective may go too far. In Chalfant’s view, Adams can scarcely do wrong, and what he does right is usually by design, rarely by chance. Further, Chalfant attributes to Henry Adams prophetic powers which rightly belong to the author by virtue of hindsight.
Another “as-told-to” book, this time the Kennedy chauffeur is doing the telling. The trouble is, Frank tells all in the first sentence: soon after old Joe died, Rose “made good her threat to fire me.” As a result, the next 358 pages pack no punch. Awash with aimless, one-sentence paragraphs and considerable self-pity, Torn Lace portrays Rose, a tightfisted loner, as Frank’s protagonist. He recalls that Joan was beautiful, Jackie talked largely in whispers, and the Kennedy men liked booze and broads. No surprises there.
Mr. Nowak was a member of the Polish underground during World War II. That he survived is a testament to his good luck and his wits, and that he waited so long to publish his memoirs indicates a commendable determination to put his experiences in the best possible perspective. That Nowak does not always succeed in curbing his bitterness is understandable; one would search in vain for any Polish citizen able to regard his country’s agony dispassionately. This memoir provides a useful introduction to the psychology of the resistance movement in the period 1939—44.
This is the second and final volume of Lomask’s portrait of the elusive Aaron Burr. Detailed here is the complex story of Burr’s Western “conspiracy,” his trial for treason, and his last years as a New York attorney. Lomask is something of an apologist for Burr: the key to the author’s understanding of the “conspiracy” is the fact (recently discovered by the editor of the Burr papers) that the damning “cipher letter” was not written by Burr. Lomask, who is a journalist as well as an historian, creates a lifelike, even likable Burr. This is clearly the best biography of Burr available.
It has long been known that the English treat their pets better than they do their children, but Antonia Hunt’s parents surely merit some sort of Victoria Cross for child neglect. They left Antonia, then 14, in France on the eve of the German invasion. The plucky teenager survived, no thanks to her parents, and—incredible to relate—she seems to bear them no ill will. When her father (an Army general) met her after the war, he berated her for her hair style and her wooden-soled shoes. The wonder is that this young woman did not opt to retreat back to Berlin with the Wehrmacht.
Only Isak Dinesen’s own Out of Africa and Letters from Africa give a better account of this fascinating writer, and those books, of course, cover only the African years, 1914 to 1931. Thurman’s book perceptively details the whole life, including the family background. Book 1, “Tanne” (her childhood name), gives that background and Dinesen’s childhood and young womanhood. Book 2, “Tania,” chronicles her loves and losses on the African coffee farm. Book 3, “Isak Dinesen,” shows the emerging of the writer we know, the author of Seven Gothic Tales, Winter’s Tales, and the African memoir. Book 4, “Pellegrina,” is the sad account of the last painful years, which Dinesen nevertheless lived as fully as possible. This is a skeletal account of a richly detailed and absorbing book. Thurman’s book is every bit as good as its subject.
The drama of the law courts and life in the theater are closely interwoven in this absorbing autobiography by the barrister/ playwright. Urbane, witty, and touching, the background, language, and sentiments are very English. Father, blinded in full legal career, emerges as the eccentric personality he undoubtedly was; so, too, does the son—school days, war, love, marriage, and divorce make up one of the most enjoyable accounts of a life to come along for some time.
The publication of this book is a tremendously important event for scholars of black history. While thousands of slave narratives are extant, this autobiography is one of the few existing narratives of the life of a “free man of color.” Originally published serially in an Indianapolis newspaper, the autobiography is printed here for the first time in 86 years and for the first time in book form. The subject of this autobiography, Willis Augustus Hodges, was co-founder of the abolitionist newspaper, The Ram’s Horn, and co-founder of a settlement for blacks in Franklin County, New York. Hodges wrote his autobiography in 1848; editor Willard B. Gatewood supplies information on Hodges’ later years, which included involvement in Reconstruction politics in Virginia. A valuable and illuminating narrative.
Here is an important and idiosyncratic book. The book is important because Wyatt-Brown has offered a new synthesis of antebellum Southern history that forces us to reconsider the very nature of that society. He argues that honor, properly understood, provided the cultural glue of the Old South, Honor, a fragile system of values in which one’s reputation takes precedence over other ways of determining an individual’s worth, explains—for Wyatt-Brown at least—virtually everything about white Southerners. As the discoverers of new historical syntheses are prone (and perhaps entitled) to do, Wyatt-Brown seems to exaggerate the ubiquity and power of honor in the South. In this book, honor runs roughshod over adversaries that offered much more resistance to honor than the author admits. Evangelical Christianity and a faith in America’s republican government of laws, in particular, qualified honor, weakened honor in the antebellum South much more than this book admits. Nevertheless, students of the South will long stand indebted to Bertram Wyatt-Brown.
This lively and interesting companion volume to The History of Manners extends the work of Norbert Elias and his study of The Civilizing Process, The casual reader may find it difficult to dip here and there into this history of Europe between the time of Charlemagne and the 20th century. But if one is willing to begin at the beginning and follow to the end, an excellent tale unfolds. Although all such typically German attempts at formulating the appropriate sociological theory to explain the whole of European history must be taken with more that a pinch of salt, there is hardly a page on which one’s intellectual palate is not in some way teased.
This may be gonzo history. If Mr. Yaney is not a character in the Doonesbury comic strip, he should be. He is opinionated, arrogant, given to outrageous judgments— and very often he is right. Yaney probably knows Russia as well as any scholar in the world, and this admirable study of agrarian politics is another of his flawed masterpieces. He does well on the pre-Revolutionary period but runs into some difficulty in 1918; he does not really understand the Bolshevik dilemma with regard to the peasants. But he is eternally stimulating, and this book is a treasure.
Thorough scholarship, compassion, and well-reasoned arguments are here combined to form an excellent social history of prostitution in the years after the turn of the century. In these years, Progressive reformers succeeded in achieving passage of statutes prohibiting prostitution; the result of this reform, however, was that prostitution assumed an uglier form. As brothels closed, organized crime stepped in, and streetwalking became the standard practice in American prostitution. Rosen is an excellent writer and historian, and this is not a dry, overly scholastic account. “Prostitution,” she writes, is “neither the worst form of exploitation women have ever suffered, nor a noble or liberating occupation. . . .” Rather it is a “dangerous and degrading occupation that, given the limited and unattractive alternatives, has enabled thousands of women to escape even worse danger and deprivation,” The span of time covered by this book is broadened by an introductory chapter and an epilogue, so that Ms. Rosen’s book serves as a rather complete history of prostitution in America. Highly recommended.
The Western Allies reduced much of Germany to rubble before the end of the year 1943, and yet the Germans fought on for another 18 months. The bombing was widespread but basically indiscriminate; there was no concentration upon armsmanufacturing plants, and Albert Speer said later that this poor target selection prolonged the war. Roosevelt and Churchill disagreed on bombing strategy, and the military commanders themselves could not offer a coherent plan. This is an excellent study of Bomber Command, the neglected sister of the dashing Fighter Command of World War II.
An excellent, thorough literary history of the strongly Protestant reign of Edward VI (1547—53). King has dug deeply into the manuscripts as well as the printed works of the time and produced a detailed picture that may well become standard. His polemical insistence on the unrecognized importance of his period is not so fully argued, and Robert Crowley will not take his place in the pantheon of English men of letters; but some readers may be intrigued enough by William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat to give it a try.
Here they are again, the whole naive crowd of Stalin’s admirers and defenders. They thought that fascism was the greatest enemy, and so they accepted some minor inconveniences of Stalinism because only Stalin was fighting Hitler. They were slow to realize their error. As a result, some of them went to jail, some had their careers and lives wrecked, and the American intelligentsia was polarized to such an exent that no reconciliation was possible. One can argue with Mr. O’Neill’s choice of heroes (Sidney Hook and Diana Trilling are no prizes), but he has retold this tale well.
Historians delight in turning points, and they abound in Southern history. Sometime in the late 18th or early 19th century, for example, Southerners passed the point of no return on the issue of slavery. Freehling (whose husband has examined another decisive moment, the nullification crisis in South Carolina) replaces Joseph C. Roberts’ badly outdated The Road from Monticello (1941) and seeks to refute Robert McColley, who in Slavery in Jeffersonian Virginia (1964) contended that antislavery then and there was rather weak and equivocating. Freehling argues that the discussions of 1831—32 between slaveholding Easterners and small-farming Westerners represented no turning point at all. Moderates held sway in the aftermath of Turner’s bloody revolt; Virginians as a whole hoped in the distant future to abolish slavery despite their taking no immediate step in that direction; Westerners after 1832 began talking more and more of majority rule and its consequences for bondage. An interesting revisionist work.
This is a ground-breaking book. In the movement of the last ten years to find in 18th-century English politics not merely the clash of parties and personalities, of family interests and families of influence, Browning (the author of an earlier, excellent biography of The Duke of Newcastle) continues and deepens the analyses of Robert Smith (Eighteenth-Century English Politics) and John Brewer (Party Ideology and Popular Politics at the Accession of George III). Browning is masterful in seeing through thickets of information to secure and useful generalizations; his chapters on Lord Hervey and Bishop Hoadly are exemplary (and will be as interesting to literary scholars as well as to historians).
The only fault with this sweeping social history of early colonial Maryland is that its principal themes are often lost in a sea of details. Mundane facts, such as the number of chamber pots and chairs a family owned, take precedence over important economic and social trends. This study is sometimes more anthropological than historical. Nonetheless, Main’s painstaking examination of the probate records of six Chesapeake counties presents an illuminating snapshot of life in a developing plantation economy. Her systematic analysis of these records uncovered a trove of new information about an era for which the primary sources have been meager.
While it is unlikely that great masses of Americans will rush to study Polish history because of the publicity given to Lech Walesa and Solidarity, there has been a strong upsurge of interest in Polish affairs. This is a welcome development, and scholarly studies such as this one edited by Professor Fedorowicz will ultimately have an impact upon our thinking. A distinguished international group of experts has produced 13 essays on a variety of political, religious, and intellectual topics. This is a handsome work that merits a wider audience than it is likely to find.
This collection reawakens the leading voice of the Deep South in the 19th century. Its 33 essays are organized under headings of slavery and race, agricultural and industrial development, society and culture, political argument before and during the sectional crisis, and finally Civil War and Reconstruction. Unlike so many reprints of old-Southern discourse (which could be awfully labored and boring), this volume will fascinate student and general reader alike. Paskoff and Wilson provide an excellent example of editorial and historical skills combined.
In a book that could easily be titled A Short History of Italy, 1922—1945, De Grand traces the fortunes of fascism from its origins through the death of Mussolini. The author takes a practical rather than a theoretical approach, analyzing fascism as a system of government and not an ideology. De Grand does not stress the movement’s reactionary political and social philosophies. Instead he depicts fascism as a potential vehicle for the advancement of middle-class interests within the framework of a new political system. A concise work on an important development in modern European history.
It was easier to be a socialist in those days, the jailing of Eugene Debs notwithstanding. Some of the best, sharpest minds in America gravitated to the “Bohemian” community in Greenwich Village in the first few years of this century, and the magazine they built, The Masses, remains a priceless chronicle of the social protest movement in this country. Max Eastman, Upton Sinclair, Susan Glaspell, Floyd Dell, and their wealthy patron, Mabel Dodge, were just a few members of a circle without parallel or rival in our history. Fishbein has written a superb study,
The field of Women’s Studies is gradually assembling its scholarly basis; this wellresearched collection of Greek and Latin sources in translation displays most of what there is to work with at the classical end of things. Women impinged on ancient literature so little that the results are predictably slim and fragmentary; but legal sources provide some substantial selections and a few surprises, and some detailed medical texts are as hair-raising as might have been expected.
It is a delight to find that the latest in the Best Short Stories series contains what must truly be among the very best short stories published in the U. S. last year. The late, distinguished editor chose for it almost all stories from the “little” magazines—not, as has been usual, from more established journals. Thus, the sources for these stories are such magazines as the South Carolina Review, Choice, Story-quarterly, The Little Magazine. The 20 stories chosen range from simple and satisfying (“The Courtship of Widow Sobcek”; “The Girl Who Was No Kin to the Marshalls”) to ghastly and good (“Dancing Ducks and Talking Gnus”; “Cathedral”); from “Shelter the Pilgrim”—superb—to “Lamb Says”—excellent. The authors are mostly unsung, too. Only Mary Robison, author of the first-rate “Coach,” and Joyce Carol Oates, who wrote the turgid but honest “Theft,” could be called well known, with stories representing The New Yorker and Northwest Review, respectively. As in any collection, there are disappointments: the unsuccessful experiment, “The Continental Heart” and the close-toporn “Cafe de Paris,” But on the whole this is a refreshingly rewarding collection, in an old and respected anthology series.
Ira Sadoff has written a moving modern version of an old and universal theme—the search for father—a subject that is particularly close to this versatile young writer. Although this is only Sadoff’s first novel (he’s previously been known mainly for his three collections of poetry), there is a maturity that shines through here, not only in the writing but also in the author as a human being. While this might easily have been a novel of vindictiveness or of selfpity, it is, finally, a book of great understanding. V.S. Pritchett has written that he “always thought it the duty of great writers to justify their people, for we all feel that for good or ill, we are exceptional and justified in being what we are.” Ira Sadoff recognizes this truth with genuine compassion.
In this her third collection of short stories in six years, the prolific Ann Beattie opens contemporary relationships to their enervated hearts, pulling forth unflinchingly her Amandas, Bens, Nicks, and Annies to love and lose. Actually, not all lose; some merely suffer. And all of them wait. The difficulty with stories in a collection such as this is that their terrains overlap. One feels, in fact, that Beattie characters all live about 30 feet psychically from one another, whether forlorn in Vermont, walking dogs in New York City, or down on a Virginia farm. Beattie’s stories, however, are not rooms in a house of cards. Shorn of the others, each stands firm. Her people are the witty, affluent, troubled, and largely superfluous heirs to their narrowing age. Ann Beattie has reached into the chaotic glitter of her generation, found one facet—its inevitable mourning—and polished it to a hard brilliance.
An American longtime resident of Peking has written a fascinating political novel full of colorful characterizations of the current Chinese scene ranging from the corridors of power to the seamy back alleys. The author’s successful first book presents the ultimate dilemma of what would happen if a desperate Pentagon played its “China Card” against the Soviets by sharing its nuclear weapons with the People’s Republic of China. A very scary scenario indeed.
1982 was Margaret Atwood’s year: a much acclaimed novel, volumes of poetry and criticism, and this collection of stories, Dancing Girl. A couple inevitably quarrels on a visit to the grave of a famous poet. A woman surviving a plane crash at sea waits in strange company for her rescue. Another woman mourns her lover, dead of a fall from a great tree. Metaphor runs strongly in Atwood’s stories. Interesting, contemporary, varied, all describe them, but not, as one would like to say, rich. Rich more aptly describes her longer fiction. For the short go, Atwood does not develop the sustained weft of subplots and feelings that make her a master of the novel. The stories are slight, not threadbare, but neither fully patterned nor textured, a string quartet with a player or two mysteriously muted. The short story is restricted enough; Atwood is all subtlety, no sprint or muscle. Look instead to her novels. Her novels are symphonies.
There is a coup in an African country; the Americans and the Soviets are both up to no good in the affair; and the Africans themselves have not a clue as to what is going on. This ought to make for a good novel, or at least a busy one, especially in the hands of the talented author of The Man Who Lost the War. As Wagner’s music—according to Mark Twain—was supposed to be better than it sounds, so Tyler’s new book is better than it reads. In the end, politics, or what passes for it, triumphs over art, and that is a pity. But Mr. Tyler knows his Africa, and as a kind of thinly disguised indictment of foreign meddling on that unhappy continent, the book succeeds.
This short novel by an English poet presents a haunting story about an English boy convalescing on a garden estate in rural Mexico. The boy, ignored by his parents except during their weekend visits, finds solace in an intense friendship with the gardener’s son, Chayo, teaching him to read during secret nightly lessons. The two youths secretly sleep together, trade clothing, and make nocturnal expeditions into town. Against a background of seemingly irreconcilable differences in race, class, and religion, a desperate battle is fought as the boy seeks to possess his increasingly independent friend; their final sundering is inevitably violent. Schmidt’s prose is sensitive and impeccable; this book is a small but perfect treasure.
This astringent but always luminous book examines loss, displacement, and eventual renewal from the perspective of Will Ross, a 66-year-old widower trying to adjust both to his wife’s recent death and his own retirement. Deciding to make his Maine summer cottage his retirement home, Ross fights despair as well as the blandishments of a somewhat predatory widow, Lil, Their brief (and wonderfully rendered) affair is as empty and banal as Will finds everything else. As the streets lose their tourists and the trees their leaves, he sees nothing but cold and barren days ahead. But, in an ending more opaque than convincing, Will finds spiritual rebirth in the form of a mysterious boy found sleeping in his son’s old tree house.
Jorge Luis Borges has written a story about a man attempting to rewrite Don Quixote, on the theory that a 20th-century version of the same text would be infinitely enriched by modern ironies and ambiguities. Oates attempts something similar in this send-up of the 19th-century romance, complete with abductions, ghosts, and fainting virgins. Set in America after the Civil War, the novel skewers the late Victorian sensibility, which created a generation of corseted women, repressed to the point of hysteria. Oates’ irony is at times delicious, but unfortunately it loses its novelty long before the end of this turgid 600-page narrative. The novel as a whole is a shapeless welter of detail; when the effect of the governing irony is lost, so is the reader.
The unlikely but endearing hero of this marvelously entertaining novel is Gavin Lamb, a London hairdresser who still lives with his parents. A virgin at 31, Gavin is passively waiting for his life to begin and his fantasy of true love to appear. He has well-developed tastes for music, literature, and painting but suffers from excruciating insecurity about social occasions of any kind. Wondering if he is really a homosexual like his best friend, he is dragged off to a wild party one night, and his adventures snowball from there. By the end of the book, he is involved with a strange and intriguing group of characters and finds himself surrounded with several romantic—and scary—possibilities. Howard has written a delightfully witty book, full of insight into situations from the pathetic to the hilarious.
Katinka Loeser’s third collection of short stories is lovingly detailed and congenial. Quiet, low-key, gently witty, the eight autobiographical sketches achieve a warmth and mellow realism that can be wry or melancholy. Nothing very dramatic or unexpected happens in these vignettes of a Connecticut middle-aged couple; those who are looking for forceful style or startling plots will be disappointed. Her stories move slowly, meticulously observing people and their surroundings, and all have a common undercurrent of nature— houseplants, two pet cats, migrating birds—connecting with moments of growth or mortality or rebirth in the human sphere.
This book presents a bold, revisionist interpretation of Eisenhower, his presidency, and his leadership style. Greenstein challenges the conventional image of Eisenhower as a thoroughly nonpolitical man by presenting a mass of primary data showing Ike’s reasoning processes and behind-the-scenes actions that bespoke political sensitivity and skill. He argues that Eisenhower intentionally undermined McCarthyism by avoiding the appearance of being an antagonist and by maintaining his esteem as chief of state. Political scientists will want to consider Greenstein’s proposal for future American presidents that they adapt Ike’s mode of leadership for their own purposes. Well argued and well written, Hidden-Hand is a valuable addition to the literature on Eisenhower.
This is a collection of 23 short vignettes in support of a nuclear freeze. Were this book prepared by a political party or the Soviet Union’s War Ministry, its factual errors and misleading statements would force it to be dismissed as “propaganda.” It will undoubtedly be treated as a serious work, however, as it is being issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists in conjunction with “teach-ins” at 400 colleges and universities. Yet the errors its authors make are enormous. For example, the book suggests that the warhead thrown out of a silo when a Titan II rocket exploded might have “gone off.” The book’s chapter on space dismisses all space weaponry by suggesting that practical obstacles make such weapons popular only to “science-fiction writers and popular movie-makers.” The authors flatly declare that neither side has an ABM system when in fact the Soviet Union has developed such a system. The three authors assert that there is “little point in having a weapon capable of destroying the enemy’s ICBM silos (the MX) unless you intend to use it first.” Of course, this assumes that the Soviets would launch all their rockets at one time and not retain any to hold U.S. cities hostage after a first strike. Had the authors bothered to consider such a situation, they might have understood different uses for these weapons. In short, the book is misinformed, grossly inaccurate, and fails to consider the hard questions of a war that may someday destroy the planet. It adds little to the current debate on the nuclear freeze.
Though our courts are often regarded as the least dangerous branch of government, they are rarely the least controversial. For the last several decades, intense public debate has surrounded the growing activism of the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary. Participants in this debate usually argue for or against an activist court, depending on their reaction to the court’s most recent activity. Gary McDowell, in this short and highly readable book, puts the current controversy over the extent of judicial power into historical and philosophic perspective. He traces the idea of equity through American legal and political history, with frequent and insightful references to its philosophic origins. He argues that the Supreme Court, particularly in its desegregation decisions, has extended its jurisdiction and authority in matters of equity beyond anything envisioned at the founding or justified in our constitutional system. This book does what is rarely done on issues of contemporary controversy: it gives a refreshing, a relevant, and a realistic assessment of an important political question from an academic and philosophic point of view. It deserves serious and wide attention.
To call Jules Feiffer a cartoonist or a caricaturist is not quite correct. His drawings are relatively primitive, and there is often little change from panel to panel. Rather Feiffer is a political commentator equal to the best of the current crop of newspaper columnists. Consistently scathing, unrepentingly radical, and too cynical by half, Feiffer has drawn a bead on every president since Eisenhower, and each chief executive takes his medicine in turn in this volume. The chapter titles alone suggest the drift of Feiffer’s work: The Ike Age, The Sundance Kid (JFK), Here Lies Lyndon, VietNixon, Happy Hooligan (Ford), Jimmy the Cloud, and Movie America (the present White House boarder). Most of the chiefs are brought together in one memorable cartoon entitled, “Who Lost Viet Nam?” “Not I,” answers Ike, “I just sent money.” “Not I,” says Jack, “I just sent advisors.” “Not I,” says Lyndon, “I just followed Jack.” “Not I,” says Dick, “I just honored Jack and Lyndon’s commitments.” “Not I,” says Jerry, “What was the question?” And in the concluding panel, clutching a paper marked SECRET, appears Henry Kissinger, pointing an accusing finger at the reader, as he opines, “YOU lost VietNam, because you didn’t trust your leaders.”
In times past the British polity often served as a model of stability and good governance; in the last decade, however, it came to represent the epitome of all the problems characteristic of the other Western democracies: alienated voters, economic stagnation, and political fragmentation. In this book Samuel Beer sets out to explain how and why Britain changed. He offers both a structural explanation and a description of cultural change. Structurally, interest groups now choose immediate over long-term advantage; culturally, a romantic revolt against technocracy has generated a new populism evident both on the left and the right. The result is a loss of the moderation and trust on which the polity was once grounded. This focus on the British polity meets an important need left unmet by more common but more narrow works on the British economy.
This slim book, written by a former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, discusses the past, present, and future of the consumer movement. Commissioner Pertschuk is a vigorous champion of consumer rights, and he recounts here with justifiable pride a string of regulatory victories: the elimination of cigarette advertisements from TV, freer sales of low-cost generic drugs, keener competition in doctors’ and lawyers’ fees, and more. He attributes recent deregulatory trends to hordes of corporate lobbyists, who were able to work together toward the creation of broad governmental policy, and to the increasing reliance of federal legislators on the contributions of political action committees. In all a fascinating appraisal of recent government action and inaction.
Subtitled Surviving Divorce, this is a readable, hip, perceptive book about the subject. An accomplished journalist, currently a senior editor at U. S. News and World Report, Trafford interviewed people across the country about their divorces. She had been through one herself, and Crazy Time has much to say about the intensely personal nature of an experience which is increasingly common. Its frequency does not diminish the pain which Trafford divides into six fairly predictable stages: relief, disbelief, anger, depression, ambivalence, and recovery. Her analysis is sane and reassuring, and she illustrates her points with one gripping story after another of people whose lives have fallen apart along with their marriages. The author gradually brings us to realize that divorce takes courage and a soul-searching seriousness not traditionally associated with domestic upheaval. But it may ultimately be the springboard to a finer, happier life.
In this, his first book, Alec Wilkinson portrays life on the police force of a small (but not necessarily typical) American town as only one who had observed the workings of the department from the inside could do. The author is not the Wambaugh of Wellfleet, but he does not intend to be; instead, the book’s mood is more that of Our Town—sometimes somber, often wryly humorous, and always respectful and affectionate.
Revolution, oil, Islam, terrorism, and a myriad of other labels have perpetually locked Colonel Muammar Qaddafi in a state of oblivion within the realms of international politics. Cooley dwells on all of these aspects in his readable account of modern Libya. Unfortunately, most of his examination is based on rumors and gossip filled with tales of conspiracy and spying. Libya’s rejection of both East and West must be appreciated in terms of its nationalism dating back to such heroes (for Qaddafi in particular) as Omar al-Mukhtar, whose Italian “masters” placed the grains of opposition in every child’s mind. Modern Libya’s evolution from a poor into an oil-rich state has not eradicated those memories.
As modern linguists point out, the very nature of our language divides subject and object, and, language-bound as we are, we have little chance of perceiving the world in a way that might blend the two. It is astonishing, then, to find this feat so skillfully accomplished in a chapbook containing ten poems that use tools available to us all—plain, straightforward words in uncomplicated sentences. For instance, the first poem, “The Bell,” blends subject and object by using motion and personification. In its tower the bell is like a man alone “in his room,/thinking and thinking,” and when it feels hands on its rope it “considers this,” and “turns its head.” At the same time:
In these lines, the motion of the bell as it sounds and the motion of the man’s head lifting to listen momentarily collapse the walls between subject and object and allow sender and receiver to blend. Likewise, throughout the book, the categorical walls of our existence—those inherent in language, close relationships, cultural differences, class relationships, poverty, and death—are tackled and, if not leveled, at least opened here and there with a permanent window.
a man in his room
hears the clear sound,
lifts his head to listen.