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Notes on Current Books, Summer 1983

ISSUE:  Summer 1983

Charles de Gaulle tended to confuse France’s destiny with his own, and at a crucial period the French people—or a majority of them anyway—shared his illusions. His career and his personality have been examined thoroughly by a number of competent historians, yet we still have little inkling of just who this man was. Was he indeed France’s greatest son of the century or was he a quixotic dreamer who perpetuated the social and political ills that have plagued the country since Napoleon? This new study, by a Briton who knew de Gaulle, does not answer these questions but it does provide a reasonably accurate summary.

Lydia Maria Child: Selected Letters, 1817—1880, edited by Milton Meltzer and Patricia G. Holland. Massachusetts $35

Included in this substantial volume are more than 400 letters, both formal and intimate, written by Lydia Maria Child to such luminaries as Charles Sumner, William Lloyd Garrison, and John Brown. The letters reflect not only Child’s keen interest in the abolition movement but also her ideas concerning labor, marriage, temperance, prostitution, and Christianity. Mrs. Child was one of the greatest “activists” in U. S. history, and this collection will serve to clarify her place in the history of 19th-century America.

Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist, by Nick Salvatore. Illinois $24.95

This biography of Eugene V. Debs differs from its predecessors by accenting the ideological leanings of the Socialist Party’s standard-bearer. Salvatore sees Debs as motivated by traditional American democratic aspirations rather than by European Marxism. Debs’s reaction to the social disruptions caused by late 19th century capitalist excesses was more radical than most progressive reformers, but it was born of the same yearnings for egalitarianism and individualism. Salvatore’s depiction of Debs as defender of the republican ideal wears thin at times as he downplays the emergence of Marxist thought in the United States. His interpretation of Debs’ developmental years nonetheless accounts for his peculiar strain of American socialism.

Camus, by Patrick McCarthy. Random House $17.95

What is most significant about this biographical and critical study is that it should appear at all, with Camus generally judged to be out of intellectual and artistic fashion. Undaunted, McCarthy has reopened the case. His reassessment, while probably ill-timed, is generally abundant in scholarship and enthusiasm, producing in comparison to earlier biographies a study less sentimental than Bree’s, less archival than Lottman’s. Still, there are few surprises here. Why reconsider Camus? As McCarthy presents him, his political views were ambivalent; his artistic reputation, delicately pinned to a few works; his pen, all but immobilized at the end by the Algerian question. For all his accolades, Camus emerges as barely a demihero, much less the god he was once held to be. He was a committed writer, struggling imperfectly. What McCarthy seems to be suggesting is that, in our uncommitted age, half a hero is better than none at all.

Confessions of an Actor: An Autobiography, by Laurence Olivier. Simon & Schuster $16.95

Certainly no classical actor has had a more varied and successful career than Laurence Olivier. In this, his contribution to the genre of celebrity soul-baring, Lord Olivier describes with a peculiar elegance the ups and downs of his 60-year career. The details of his personal life—and especially of his love affair with and stormy marriage to Vivien Leigh—should satisfy those with a passion for the secrets of the famous. But even more interesting are Olivier’s reflections on his craft and the development of his professional techniques, strengths, and weaknesses. The prose is a bit thick in parts, and charmingly coy in others, but Confessions of an Actor is well worth the experience of reading.

Gissing: A Life in Books, by John Halperin. Oxford $29.95

At the outset John Halperin writes: “It is the story of Gissing the novelist, the great neurotic whose books are so extraordinarily full of his own problems and prejudices, fears and fixations, that I wish to tell.” He tells this story freely and fully, juxtaposing accounts of the life and the books, often so parallel to each other. “Gissing’s subjects are sex, money, and class, and the three dovetail in most of his novels and stories into the single subject of marriage.” Given all this, Gissing should be better known and far more widely read. His style is no more Victorian (i.e., overlong and verbose) than that of Dickens or Thackeray. Of course, he lacked humor, and all of his novels are dark and grim, though no more so than Dostoevsky’s. Some good fairy must have failed to bless him in his cradle: that is really the only explanation for Gissing’s comparative lack of fame. Halperin’s book is an excellent and understanding one, and the title is exceptionally apt.

Last Stands: Notes from Memory, by Hilary Masters. Godine $14.95

Middle Western reminiscences have a quality and cadence all their own, no matter what the time, the place, the person, but Hilary Masters’ back-and-forth memories of his father, Edgar Lee Masters (who was 60 when he was born), of his mother, Ellen Coyne, and of her parents, ill-matched and eccentric, who were largely responsible for his upbringing, are unusually graphic and illuminating. Last Stands will not enjoy the success of Spoon River Anthology; but it is not dated in style and substance, and even in 1915, when Spoon River first appeared as a book, it must have seemed faded to a discriminating reader. His father is not a hero to Hilary Masters; perhaps that is one reason why this account of him is so vivid.

Vital Signs, by Fitzhugh Mullan, M.D. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $12.50

The tables are turned in this poignant memoir of a doctor who becomes a cancer patient. Dr. Mullan examines the emotions, conflicts, and struggles of a young, vital physician suddenly struck with a life-threatening disease, and his perspective is a unique one. His life becomes dependent upon the very medical technology he has been trained to use on others. It is unfortunate that more doctors don’t understand the patient’s experience and needs in times of crisis. Dr. Mullan has crossed the five-year line and is now considered “cured” of the cancer which forever changed his life. The chronicle of his fight is sensitive, insightful, and provocative.

The Correspondence of Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin, edited by George Allan Cate. Stanford $28.50

The introduction to these letters, written by the editor of the collection, provides a detailed history of Carlyle and Ruskin’s correspondence, which began sometime before 1850. As a piece of criticism, it is a thoroughgoing analysis of the individual writers that manages to uncover several of the major issues we associate with the mid-Victorian era. And the letters, in their own way, do the same. We see Carlyle, the older thinker with a concern for “society,” admonishing and praising Ruskin, the younger man with the budding genius; and best of all, we read their prose when letter-writing was a genre.

H. H. Asquith: Letters to Venetia Stanley, edited by Michael and Eleanor Brock. Oxford $35

After reading this deftly edited collection of letters, one can only regret the passing of an era when letters were exchanged almost as frequently as telephone calls are today. Britain’s prime minister from 1908 to 1916, Herbert Henry Asquith was an intelligent and felicitous correspondent under any circumstances; during the tumultuous times prior to the outbreak of the First World War, he fell in love with a friend of his daughter’s, Venetia Stanley. The ensuing letters to her gained remarkable momentum during the first year of the war and reveal both astonishing breaches of security as well as fascinating glimpses into the personality of an intriguing and important personage. Venetia’s decision to marry a junior member of Asquith’s cabinet in 1915 nearly shattered the prime minister, and his intense correspondence, unfortunately for posterity, abruptly broke off. Although readers with little historical familiarity with the period might find many of Asquith’s allusions obscure, the correspondence is compelling enough simply on a personal level to warrant reading.

Richard III, by Charles Ross. California $24.50

Compiling an objective biography on a subject so maligned by writers and historians of the last 500 years is indeed no easy chore, but Mr. Ross has for the most part succeeded. Acutely aware of the challenge that he is making to the centuries of censure against this king, the author takes into account all that has previously been written about Richard III, making this text somewhat of a bibliography of former opinions on Richard Plantagenet. The style of this work, although at times rather dry, is clear and orderly, serving to gain the reader’s confidence in the author’s thorough knowledge of his subject. Mr. Ross has achieved his goal: a biography which is free of the biased moral condemnation of Richard, which was once the rule among historians. This book succeeds in providing a just account of the life of one of the most intriguing figures of English history.

Fair Ophelia: A Life of Harriet Smithson Berlioz, by Peter Raby. Cambridge $24.95

Before she dwindled into the wife of Hector Berlioz, Harriet Smithson (1800—1854) milked a minor talent which Peter Raby politely called “dramatic rather than literary,” culling great if transitory profits from acting Shakespearean heroines in Paris, where her Irish accent and faulty delivery could at last be overshadowed by her talents as mime. The marriage with Berlioz was the greatest disaster of all, followed by ten years of debilitating illness before her death. Despite such romantic events, Raby has little to tell of Harriet that is not found in biographies of Berlioz; to make up for this lack of information he writes of the early 19th-century theater, and especially of the romantic revolution in the era of Hernani. But these stories, too, have been told before, and Raby takes the most stereotypical, old-fashioned view of the sharp contrast between cold, rigid neoclassicism and passionate romanticism. His biography is thus pleasing and well illustrated but finally unnecessary.

HISTORY Mill and Town in South Carolina, 1880—1920, by David Carlton. Louisiana $32.50 doth, $14.95 paper

This book restores industrialization to its place on the agenda of Southern historians. David Carlton’s impressive research and sophisticated approach make apparently simple phenomena take on a new complexity. Turn-of-the-century mill towns, demagogues, and social reform, it turns out, contain many more meanings than at first meet the eye. Town people valued the “modern” ideals of education, harmony, and rationality and sought to reform the mill workers. Mill people, for their part, sought to conduct their lives in traditional ways at odds with these new values and saw the proposed reforms as bald attempts to run their lives. The battle between these forces, Carlton shows, reveals a tension that underlies much of the history of the 20th-century South.

The Civilian Population and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, by Joanna K. M. Hanson. Cambridge $34.50

This book might be described somewhat contradictorily as the social history of a combat operation. Previous accounts have concentrated on the fighting in Warsaw during the terrible insurrection of 1944, but until now we have been given almost no information about the lives of the nearly one million people—few of whom participated in the violence—who stood (or rather cowered) by and tried to survive until the nightmare passed. Ms. Hanson has had access to previously untouched archival sources, and she uses them to excellent advantage. This unusual work is most welcome indeed.

The First Serbian Uprising, 1804—1813, edited by Wayne S. Vucinich. Columbia $27.50

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire, perhaps better described as a slow deflation that continued over two or three hundred years, helped create the conditions that brought on the First World War. The beginning of the end came early in the 19th century, when Serbia, the nucleus of modern Yugoslavia, rose up against the Turkish regime and established its autonomy. This useful book, to which American and European historians have contributed, constitutes a useful summary of the Serbian revolt and will be of considerable use to students and specialists.

Patronage and Poverty in the Tobacco South: Louisa County, Virginia, 1860—1900, by Crandall A. Shifflett. Tennessee $12

Crandall Shifflett’s book is filled with bitterness at the poverty so many Southerners of both races have endured for so long. He blames that poverty in the post-Civil War South on what he calls “patronage capitalism”—a system “whereby the means of production and distribution were privately owned but where no free market in labor actually functioned.” In order to substantiate this thesis, Shifflett uses a broad range of records from a single Virginia county to recreate the patterns of patronage. This is a difficult task, and his argument will breed disagreement among historians. It may well prove a useful disagreement, however, and Shifflett is to be applauded for his attempt to explain one of the most important problems of Southern history.

Prelude to Pearl Harbor, by Col. Roy M. Stanley. Scribner’s $24.95

Japan’s war against China in the 1930’s was underreported and badly misunderstood around the world. So long as one group of Orientals was killing another, no one in the West minded very much. The Russians were delighted to have Japan looking south instead of west, and neither they nor the Western powers thought that Japan could possibly digest China, let alone push on further. This book gives a professional soldier’s analysis of the Sino-Japanese War, and a useful account it is, complete with many previously unpublished photographs.

All Clever Men, Who Make Their Way: Critical Discourse in the Old South, edited by Michael O’Brien. Arkansas $35

For a long time historians have studied the political controversies and social pressures that weighted down the antebellum Southern imagination. O’Brien’s anthology—covering literature, theology, art, political economy, travel, history, and the need for women voters—now offers in a single volume impressive evidence of the thinking and writing that went on despite the obstacles. O’Brien introduces his sampling with an essay on the problems of studying Old South intellectual life; his notes represent much hard labor in concordances and musty stacks.

A History of Strategic Bombing, by Lee Kennett. Scribner’s $15.95

Since the Austrians launched bomb-carrying balloons against Venice in 1849 (Venice happily survived), mankind has devised ever newer and more deadly ways of delivering destruction. In this handsomely produced, succinct history, Professor Kennett traces the evolution of this mad science down to the obliteration of the two Japanese cities in 1945. One comes away from a reading of this dismal tale with the conviction that the worst is yet to come, but we ignore this subject at our peril.

The Conquest of Morocco, by Douglas Porch. Knopf $16.95

It could be said that France had to save Morocco by destroying it, but that would be just a shade unfair. The Morocco of the turn of the present century was an outpost of misery, filth, and degradation, not to mention barbaric feudalism, and the French government sought to bring all the advantages of civilization to the country. That involved enslaving it anew, but this was the last gasp of imperialism, and no one thought of the French conquest in those terms. This splendidly written story of the last great imperialist adventure is a model of historical scholarship.

Testing the Chains: Resistance to Slavery in the British West Indies, by Michael Craton. Cornell $29.50

This history of slave resistance in the British West Indies from 1600 to 1832 lacks a convincing unifying theme. Craton contends that European Enlightenment ideals had little influence on rebellious Caribbean slaves. Rather they developed both subtle and overt forms of resistance for the simple reason that they craved the freedom to live their lives as they pleased. Craton’s concentration on motivation flaws what is otherwise a scholarly examination of slave rebellions. By setting out to prove what is perhaps the unprovable, he has raised his readers’ expectations only to disappoint them by failing to provide evidence to support his thesis.

Antebellum Politics in Tennessee, by Paul H. Bergeron. Kentucky $18.50

This slender monograph will be of interest only to specialists on Jacksonian politics, and even they will be disappointed. Bergeron eschews the analysis of ideology and the systematic consideration of policy-making and changing social context that have made recent political studies of other Southern states superior to their predecessors. Instead, he clings to an old-fashioned conception of parties as electoral machines, stresses factionalism and organization at the expense of issues, and narrowly focuses on a chronicle of gubernatorial and presidential elections, and even that chronicle is poorly organized. Still, one can find here a wealth of detail about the rise of two-party competition in Tennessee in the late 1830’s, its maturation in the 1840’s, and its transformation in the 1850’s. It is a shame that material was not presented in a more imaginative manner.

Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, by Orlando Patterson. Harvard $30

Patterson’s study is a major and path-breaking attempt to explore the nature of slavery, its internal patterns, and its institutional supports. The sociohistorical framework is cross-cultural and encompasses major and minor slave systems from the ancient to the modern world. The work shows an enormous range and depth of research as well as a remarkably clear interdisciplinary analysis. Patterson provocatively yet cogently develops the complex notion that slavery is fundamentally a social relationship of domination: a form of social parasitism, a form of “social death.” Particularly noteworthy is the novel discussion of honor as basic to the structure and ethos of slavery. Perhaps the most important contribution of this book is that it shatters our typically provincial conceptualization and understanding of slavery.

The Nazi Movement in Baden, 1920—1945, by Johnpeter Horst Grill. North Carolina $32

Grill, a professor at Mississippi State University, analyzes the history of the Nazi party in the fifth largest German state from the formation of the local organization to the collapse in 1945 of the Reich. Utilizing a wide variety of sources and a number of interesting techniques of historical analysis, Grill reveals the nature of the Nazis’ strength, their relationship to the Catholic and Socialist opposition, and their consolidation of their hold on power after the 1928 elections. This is a splendid, original piece of scholarship that will influence writing on the Nazi period as few other works have.

The Plantation Mistress: Woman’s World in the Old South, by Catherine Clinton. Pantheon $19.95

The interested reader opens this book with eager anticipation and closes it with disappointment. Southern women need to have their history told, and this book appears on the surface to be a promising start: its subject is broad, its publisher prestigious, its author a young scholar educated at distinguished institutions. But this history is thin, with few of the surprises or insights that make history exciting. The unintended result of this book’s condescending tone and simplistic approach is to make the history of antebellum Southern women seem far less interesting than the glimpses we have had of them in other books led us to expect.

Essays on Culture and Society in Modern Germany, edited by Gary D. Stark and Bede Karl Lackner. Texas A & M $19.50

This collection of essays examines the relationships between society and politics in modern German history. While far too much has already been written on this subject as it relates to the Weimar period, this book adds new material to the debate. In particular, the book looks beyond the Weimar period to explore the hostility of German society to artists who take political stands. Further, the book explores the relationship between German culture and the cultures of other Western democracies. These essays do not form a coherent whole. Nonetheless, each of the essays is worth reading, and some are essential to any study of the subject.

England’s Rise to Greatness, 1660—1763, edited by Stephen B. Baxter. California $30

This collection of ten essays, all by eminent historians, covers political, dynastic, social, legal, and religious issues, as well as international relations, in the century of English history between the Restoration and the end of the Seven Years’ War. The contributions on foreign policy, Geoffrey Symcox’s “Britain and Victor Amadeus II: or, The Use and Abuse of Allies,” and Stephen Baxter’s “The Conduct of the Seven Years’ War,” merit special praise. This attractive edition should appeal to anyone interested in British history,

LITERARY STUDIES The Great Code: The Bible and Literature, by Northrop Frye. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich $14.95

Northrop Frye is one of our most distinguished literary critics, and in The Great Code he has found, as he did in his study of Blake and in the Anatomy of Criticism, a subject that calls forth his learning, knowledge, and humanity. This study of the Bible as a unified structure of narrative and imagery has valuable contributions to make about the nature of imagination as well as about language, myth, metaphor, and typology, the four subjects pursued in the study. Frye addresses himself to “readers of good will,” and these will find his writing witty, informative, and accessible.

The Romantic Heroic Ideal, by James D. Wilson. Louisiana $18.50

Though on an interesting subject and seemingly ambitious in scope, The Romantic Heroic Ideal is a disappointing book. It reads like a Ph. D. thesis by a conscientious and hardworking but not very imaginative student. The book is a tissue of quotations, from critics and the authors discussed. To compound the problem, all quotations from foreign writers are given in both the original and translation. Thus Wilson has very little to say of his own. His governing ideas are derivative, and when he comes to discuss individual works, he often does little more than summarize plot. His analyses are superficial, and necessarily so because he tries to cover so much material. One has to be more perceptive and concise as a writer than Wilson to be able to cover Faust (both parts) in nine pages. As for its overarching thesis, this book is an attempt to tame Romanticism and show that it was not all that revolutionary after all: “In the last analysis the romantic hero is far more traditional than he is modern” (p. 17). Wilson avoids the excesses of many contemporary critics, who turn the Romantics into modern nihilists, but in the process he turns Romanticism into something unchallenging and uninteresting.

Literary Loneliness in Mid-Eighteenth-Century England, by John Sitter. Cornell $19.50

Sitter argues that the poetry and to some extent the prose of the mid-18th century introduces a new literary period in which the writer expresses and the reader welcomes an emphasis on “the lonely poet surrounded by “nature.”” The author has interesting things to say about Warton and Collins, but his ventures into philosophical analysis and theoretical generalizations are to be appreciated for their effort rather than their achievement.

Between Language and Silence: The Novels of Virginia Woolf, by Howard Harper. Louisiana $30 cloth, $10.95 paper

This is a well-written and interesting book with a number of irritating mannerisms. The use of terms (however well presented) such as “the narrative consciousness” (which can “hover” or “withdraw” and “hasn’t the faintest idea what “mathematics” might be about”), “the creative consciousness,” “the life work” (which can “turn again towards the frontiers of literary form” or “turn inward once again, to continue to explore the mysteries of consciousness”)—all this stands between the reader and the really excellent criticism and evaluation of Woolf and her novels from the first page to the last. The title of the book does not hint at the keen perceptions and subtleties found in its pages. It must be read carefully to be appreciated.

Henry James: An American as Modernist. by Stuart Hutchinson. Barnes & Noble $27

The major authors of 19th-century America created an idiom unique to their national experience, one freed of traditional constraints, one impatient with the past. Theirs was an ideal not of mimesis but of fabrication. Hutchinson’s portrait of James reveals an author of “untraditionally traditional” mind. Weary of the oppression of rootlessness, James desired to return to traditional European settings and customs. Like many of his own characters, he sought to find “objectivity,” and hence, fulfillment, in the comforts of the past. Hutchinson’s central irony is clear—that James’ was a vain wish, that “Europe” was itself passing away, even as he arrived.

Faulkner’s “Negro”: Art and the Southern Context, by Thadious M. Davis. Louisiana $25 cloth, $10.95 paper

This ambitious study of what remains in many quarters a touchy subject is remarkably free of partisanship and rant. Professor Davis is indeed concerned with the social and cultural implications of the evasive composite figure Faulkner called “Negro,” but she is not concerned with promoting racial ideology or, except incidentally, moral judgment. Her method is to analyze the literary uses to which Faulkner put his Afro-American characters in defining Southern culture and the tensions that beset it—how “the Negro,” in addition to his or her own peculiar quality, adds depth, perspective, and clarity of outline to regional history and myth and to other characters as well. The result is a truly calm and judicious treatment of the issue of race which sheds light everywhere in Faulkner’s work.

Jonathan Swift: The Complete Poems, edited by Pat Rogers. Yale $45 cloth, $14.95 paper

Swift is at least the third and possibly the second best poet of the 18th century— depending on one’s ranking of Blake—but his prose has always been more readily available than his verse. This new edition makes some economies to squeeze things into a single thick volume but within its limits is impressively generous and up-todate and should become the standard readers’ edition. An economical but serious commentary also provides an appreciable advance over available annotation, especially in dealing with Swift’s literary allusions. A bargain at the price.

Unredeemed Rhetoric: Thomas Nashe and the Scandal of Authorship, by Jonathan V. Crewe. Johns Hopkins $15

A major trend in recent literary theory has been a freshly sophisticated interest in and respect for the purely rhetorical dimension to almost any kind of writing; and one of the byproducts of that trend is the possibility of a new appreciation of such famous but largely unread authors as Nashe, for whom rhetoric is self-consciously almost an end in itself. Crewe admits that he is using Nashe largely as an example on whom to hang his theorizing; but the theorizing fits, often with impressive economy. An attractively brief, efficient book with a number of surprises.

Spenser and the Motives of Metaphor, by A. Leigh DeNeef. Duke $31.75

Professor DeNeef sets out in this study to trace what he sees as a thread common to most of Spenser’s works, the poet’s concern with the use and abuse of metaphor. We are repeatedly confronted by speakers within the poems who “misread” the various metaphoric situations simultaneously confronting them, the narrator, and the reader. Spenser employs this strategy in order to force us (he hopes) to recognize the dangers implicit in “reading” in general and in the interpretation of the poeticdidactic text in particular.

Henry Vaughan: The Unfolding Vision, by Jonathan F. S. Post. Princeton $22.50

In his study, Professor Post offers a cogent and enlightening overview of Vaughan’s complete works—the early Poems (1646), Olor Iscanus, Silex Scintillans, and Thalia Rediviva. By taking in the entire carton, the author is able to establish successfully a context for what he calls “the poet’s and not the person’s “conversion” to writing religious verse.” This approach, combined with Post’s clean style, adds a freshness to even the most overworked critical issues, such as Vaughan’s relation to Herbert.

A Gallery of Southerners, by Louis D. Rubin, Jr. Louisiana $16.95

The introduction to this volume is entitled “Polemical Preface to Another Gallery of Southerners.” Add “egotistical,” and you will describe the book as a whole. For this is Rubin’s personal account of the great and not-so-great Southern writers of the mid-20th century. He ranges from Faulkner to Shelby Foote and never loses sight of himself in the process. The essays are all interesting and exasperating. Their point of view is at once intensely Southern and equally intensely critical. If you can manage to hang on, the reading is rewarding— in spots. But it would be nice if Rubin would learn how to spell “plebeian”: you will find “plebian” on pp. xiii, 92, 155, 172—and perhaps on others.

The Rape of Clarissa, by Terry Eagleton. Minnesota $25 cloth„ $9.95 paper

Of those who have read Richardson’s Clarissa, few would admit that it is one of their favorite novels, and many would agree that it is tediously long, priggish, and preachy. However Terry Eagleton claims that Richardson’s book can now become a great novel for us. Combining three approaches—Marxist criticism, poststructuralist theories of textuality, and psychoanalysis—Eagleton sees Richardson as an aggressive spokesman for the middle class and as a novelist obsessed with the act of writing and fascinated by sexual politics. Often the subversive effects of the novel far exceed its author’s intentions. Clarissa, Eagleton suggests, is “arguably the major feminist text of the language.” Such an interpretation will hardly appeal to all 18th-century specialists. Nevertheless, Eagleton’s study is always lively, often perceptive, and, despite its pluralist methodology, extremely well written. Eagleton is one of the most exciting British critics writing today, and his startling approach should arouse enough interest to make both specialists and nonspecialists of the period reevaluate this great unread novel.

Critical Essays on William Styron, by Arthur Casciato and James L. W. West III. G. K. Hall $32.50

In 1947, the young William Styron wrote to his father, “I am no prodigy but, Fate willing, I think I can produce art.” The 40 essays of this volume, spanning the past three decades, bear witness both for and against Styron’s claim. The collection, curiously lacking a Styron bibliography, contains articles from both popular and scholarly presses by, among others, Malcolm Cowley, Louis D. Rubin, Jr., Roger Asselineau, Anthony Winner, Mike Thelwell, and Clive Barnes. While not an exhaustive collection of Styron criticism, it represents the diverse eyes appraising Styron up to the midpoint in his successful and controversial career. A special section at the end summarizes Styron’s critical reception in France, where his literary reputation may even eclipse his reputation at home.

FICTION From the Bottom Up, by Leigh Allison Wilson. Georgia $12.95

We have heard enough about Southern literature these days to render that label useless for any sort of specific designation, so I will say only in the most obvious sense that Wilson’s collection of stories, her first, belongs to the South. Where else would a simile find its vehicle in “chitlins,” or “swelled ticks,” or “ringworms,” or an “instinct-driven oppossum?” Rooted in O’Connor, nine of the ten stories are precocious exercises in landscape description, dialogue, and down-home humor, all the necessary fixtures of her subject matter, and all deftly handled; but it is when she heads north in “The Professors” that Wilson is most impressive and shows herself to be a writer for all regions.

The Skating Party, by Marina Warner. Atheneum $10.95

The benign, innocent-sounding title of this British novel belies the exotic, erotic, and violent revelations during the course of the story. The characters are Michael, a middle-aged anthropology professor; his wife Viola, an art historian; their rebellious 17-year-old son Timmo; and Katy, Michael’s student who is also his mistress. The narrative shifts intricately back and forth between the skaters gliding along the frozen river toward the awaiting meal and the memories elaborating the characters’ pasts and the connections between them. These flashbacks include cruel rites of the primitive cult where Michael did field-work in the Pacific, and a haunting, unidentified Renaissance fresco that holds special meaning for Viola. By the end of the afternoon, the ice has broken, relationships have undergone many twists and are brought to a satisfying end. Within a narrow scope—the love triangle as basic plot, and the skating party as the setting—the author has succeeded in bringing together passion and illusions, rivalry and family ties, and sudden reperceptions of the past and present. An elegant, rewarding book.

Come to Get My Baby Out of Jail, by Louise Shivers. Random House $12.95

A simple story told with a trim elegance, the first novel by Louise Shivers traces a brief episode in the life of a young mother who has an affair with a man who, in turn, kills her husband by burying him alive but unconscious in a shallow grave. Shivers’ accomplishment here is that she balances the macabre desires of the woman’s lover with the innocent and, finally, credible gullibility of the woman. Gesture, innuendo, revealing asides, many of the reasons we feel that subtlety is one characteristic of a strong novelist, are all in abundance here, and Shivers already seems a writer of promise.

Ararat, by D. M. Thomas. Viking $13.50

D.M.Thomas is well on the way to doing more for history than the historians. After reaching an unprecedented level of truth concerning the Babi Yar tragedy in The White Hotel, in this new work he takes us from the collapse of Poland’s Solidarity trade union movement back to the 19th century, then forward to the 1915 massacre of the Armenians in Turkey. We never really know whether the ostensible protagonist, the Sergei Rozanov of 1981, assumes the form of the writer Pushkin, whose Egyptian Nights remains unfinished—until another Thomas protagonist, Victor Surkov, undertakes to complete it. This is a many-sided splendor, Thomas at his best.

On the Black Hill, by Bruce Chatwin. Viking $14.75

In contrast to his two earlier books, Chatwin has set this novel within a few square miles of Welsh border farmland. The book chronicles the lives of twin brothers who have spent their lives sheep farming on the homestead called “The Vision”—appropriate, since it relates to the novel’s epigraph on the quest for the heavenly city, and to the closing chapters when Benjamin and Lewis hear a sermon on the need for an “abiding city.” The theme of twinship is intriguing, but their parents, Amos and Mary—a rough, angry, uneducated man married to a refined, strong-willed woman—and their stormy relationship are more interesting than their sons. By the end of the book, the brothers have aged into absurd but prosperous old bachelors, still both asexual and doting on the memory of their mother in their eighties. Chatwin’s style recalls Hardy and Lawrence as he paints his bleak landscape and its eccentric inhabitants, yet without the poignant narrative. Through the long time sequence of the novel, he focuses in a cool, detached way on the narrow isolation of country living and the human deformities it breeds. The author is in full control of his location and the social and economic changes of the 20th century, but the plot is weak and the reader can’t get involved with the emotions of any character long enough to build momentum. This is not a very moving or absorbing story, but one we admire for the vividly and poetically imagined setting and characters.

The Little Drummer Girl, by John le Carre. Knopf $16

This is le Carre at his richest, most thrilling, and rewarding. Abandoning Smiley and Karla, le Carre moves into the intrigues of Israeli intelligence, Palestinian terrorism, and the horrors of nondiscriminating death. The story follows the pursuit of an illusive Palestinian terrorist and the “bait” that is offered up to him in a most magnificent deception—a young English actress named Charlie. The geographical settings move from London to Bonn, Munich to Mykonos, and Vienna to Jerusalem. The research that le Carre has done pays off in a rich descriptive tapestry. But by far his greatest accomplishment in this book (and in any of his works, for that matter) is to reveal, in some of the most passionate dialogue ever written in this genre, the fervent and irreconcilable claims of both Israelis and Palestinians to the twice-promised land that means identity, sanctuary, and survival for both. This is, in the first degree, a moral novel.

The Fever Tree, by Ruth Rendell. Pantheon $11.95

Rendell specializes in mystery with a twist, often horrific. In this collection of eleven stories, most of them very good, murder and mayhem rarely occur as expected: “The Fever Tree” (an unhappy husband, a clinging wife, and a game preserve); “The Dreadful Day of Judgement” (or working in a cemetery); “A Glowing Future” (a lover returns with treasures— for someone else); “An Outside Interest” (or frightening people as a hobby); “A Case of Coincidence” (or when is a murderer not a murderer?); “Thornapple” (James, the junior chemist); “May and June” (two sisters); “A Needle for the Devil” (a nurse and her knitting); “Front Seat” (Mrs. Jones’ husbands); “Paintbox Place” (the little old lady and the compost heap); and “The Wrong Category” (the curious case of the strangled young men). Certainly a showcase for Rendell’s work.

The Disputed Crown, by Valeric Anand. Scribner’s $14.95

Ms.Anand has succeeded at a quite formidable task, that of combining history and fiction. She has chosen for her setting William the Conqueror’s England, and for her characters King William and his family, French and English nobles, leading rebels, and ordinary people with extraordinary problems. This historical novel weaves together history, drama, nature, and daily life. The novel’s genius lies in the way history is brought to life by showing the impact on human life of certain events which are usually presented so dryly in history books. This text does not record the actions of the ruling class but rather depicts the unifying (but oftentimes frazzled) thread of a culture. The book is destined for those who enjoy good fiction or history.

Seesaw, by Ira Miller. St. Martin’s $13.95

Purported to be an “explicitly sexual” novel, this silly accumulation of pages (a “book”?) reads like a limp pastiche of supposedly erotic letters from Penthouse. Arnie, a 25-year-old high school English teacher, and his 16-year-old student Annie copulate lugubriously for 200 pages. That is all. Devoid of wit, charm, literary grace (much less competence), or the power to arouse, the author’s dreary, jejune confection is not even worthy of the shelves of one’s local supermarket.

The Bright Blue Sky, by Max Hennessy. Atheneum $11

Hennessy has done it again! Readers of his two earlier trilogies (Lion at Sea and Soldier of the Queen) will recognize the same impeccable historical research, the same adventure, intrigue, and romance in this volume. This volume is a story of relationships—between men and women and between men and the fledgling “aeroplanes” of World War I. The book follows Nick Quinney through the ups and downs of his relationship with Annys and through his steady climb from mechanic and navigator to RAF air ace by the end of the First World War. While this is no masterpiece of the English language, it does offer some basic entertainment and good diversion.

The Ninth Netsuke, by James Melville. St.Martin’s $9.95

This is a beautifully crafted little mystery in which the Japanese background is never really intrusive. Living arrangements are simply taken for granted, and the characters—Otani himself, his wife Hanae, Kimura, “Ninja” Noguchi, and the other police officers—are persons it’s easy to get along with. A few Japanese terms occur, but these are almost certainly well known to literate Americans—Netsuke, kotatsu, sensei, takuan, and so forth. This little book of some 150 pages is strongly recommended as leisure reading.

The Delta Star, by Joseph Wambaugh. Perigord Press $15.95

You are Mario Villalobos, 42, divorced, and tired, a detective who has seen too much of the ugly and who sees himself in a midlife crisis. You hang out at the House of Misery, drinking with other misfit cops who come to drown their woes. Then a hooker dies, seemingly at the hands of her pimp. But something doesn’t jibe. And, instead of filing the case away, you follow it up, suddenly involved with genius scientists, a Russian connection, and the potential of giving your life meaning once more. This is a funny/sad, raunchy, realistic view of a cop’s world, of the kind Wambaugh has become noted for. Not for weak stomachs but definitely worth reading.

Ritual Murder, by S. T. Haymon. St. Martin’s $10.95

Some readers may well consider that Chaucer told this story better, in the Prioress’s tale of little Hugh of Lincoln, but this account of ritual murder is undoubtedly better adapted to this day and time, with a detective-inspector in place of a pilgrim. The author knows her cathedral town well indeed and is very good at weaving together the threads of her fiction.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush & Nuclear War, by Robert Scheer. Random House $14.95

With rich annotation and ample appendices, this study of the president and his advisors on strategic planning might be described as a reader in military madness. Scheer allows the “defense gap” ideologues to speak for themselves, and they will surely frighten anyone who stops to contemplate what it means to argue that a nuclear war can be “fought” and “won.” Hydrogen warheads like other “weapons,” only larger? The men who advocate this view, according to Scheer, are not so much career military men as academics and near-academics who “reveal a fussy, polemical hair-splitting intellectual style. . . .” But this topic will scarcely bear the luxury of abstract calculation or academic ego polishing. Don’t forget to vote.

Thinking about the Next War, by Thomas Powers. Knopf $10.95

There was a time when nuclear war was “unthinkable,” but current changes in political directives make Thomas Powers’ recent book one of considerable interest. Thinking about the Next War is a collection of essays from a journalist whose writing brings to the fore concern for human life rather than the applicability of just war theories to nuclear war or the utility of the “balance of terror” and strategies of deterrence. To be sure, these essays are permeated with ominous overtones, for the possibility of nuclear war is considered to be more of an inevitability. “Common sense” is the reply defense experts give to Powers’ query about why a nuclear war will never be fought, but to Powers, it is precisely “common sense” that suggests such a war is inevitable: preparation for war entails that a war will be fought. Nuclear armaments are not constructed without purpose. We should hope, as Powers himself hopes, that his perspective is fallible.

Confiscated Power: How Soviet Russia Really Works, by Hélène Carrère d’Encausse. Harper & Row $19.95

The Soviet Union, according to Professor Carrère d’Encausse, is governed by a small group of men in the Politburo who are responsible only to themselves and the Central Committee of the Communist Party. This group has “confiscated” power and shows no inclination to give it up. This is an admirable analysis, so admirable that it ceased to be new several decades ago, and we hardly needed this restatement to tell us what we already knew. There is much pretentious posturing here and little solid analysis of a complex, changing system.

Newswatch: How TV Decides the News, by Av Westin. Simon & Schuster $15.95

Newswatch is a disappointing look at television news, which never explains “how TV decides the news.” The book appears at a crucial time. The media— particularly television—are under increasing attack for their distortions. “Public persons” are increasingly successful in using lawsuits to prove the media’s “malicious” bias. Westin does not explore this possibility of bias. Instead, he turns the reader’s attention from the hard questions with innocuous anecdotes. Some of the anecdotes are informative, most are interesting, but taken together, they do not add up to a worthwhile book. Perhaps because of his position as the executive producer of ABC News, Westin shies from pointing a finger at his colleagues. The book is therefore useful only as an anecdotal history of TV news, not as the promised exposé.

The Social Transformation of American Medicine, by Paul Starr. Basic Books $24.95

This volume is, as its author tells us, actually two books in one. The first is a social history of the rise in authority of the medical profession. The second is an examination of medicine’s transformation into an industry and the role of corporations and the state in medical economics. Starr deals with such historical and contemporary issues as why Americans, who were distrustful of medical authority in the 19th century, became devoted to it in the 20th, and why we have no U. S. national health insurance program. One of the great values of this broad and comprehensive work is that it examines the various roads not taken in the development of American health-care systems; Starr would not be sorry, he writes, if his analyses of these roads “served as a reminder that the past had other possibilities, and so do we today.” This volume serves that purpose admirably.

The Third World in Soviet Military Thought, by Mark N. Katz. Johns Hopkins $18.50

The Soviets have been as perplexed by the “Third World” as the West. They originally thought they would merely let history take its “inevitable” course and watch the colonies throw off their masters. Then, under Khruschev, they became more directly involved in the “wars of national liberation” (e. g., in Cuba). Brezhnev failed to recognize that the quicksand sucked down the Communist as easily as the capitalist, and he mired his country in protracted conflicts in Ethiopia and Afghanistan. Mr. Katz gives us a sober, thoughtful analysis of a dilemma we sometimes think of as uniquely ours.

The Partners: Inside America’s Most Powerful Law Firms, by James B. Stewart. Simon & Schuster $16.95

Written by a lawyer and for other lawyers, this book numbingly details the prestige, power, and tedium of practicing law in huge metroplitan corporate law firms. These case histories of such blue-chip firms as New York’s Cravath, Swaine, & Moore (the author’s former employer) and Chicago’s Kirkland & Ellis depict litigation as a kind of warfare in which dark-suited associates wage the bloodless battles, their motions and documents the weaponry strategically manipulatd by the partners in the war room. A few chapters treat compelling legal disputes (e. g. Westinghouse’s uranium debacle); but, for the most part, prolonged antitrust suits, corporate mergers, and original stock issues do not lend themselves to narrative intrique.

Supremacy and Oil: Iraq, Turkey, and the Anglo-American World Order, 1918—1930, by William Stivers. Cornell $19.95

Against rising nationalism in Iraq and Turkey, Britain and the United States shared a single common interest in the Middle East, that of maintaining a perceived “Western” order. Britain, however, no longer capable of imposing its military will, compensated her position in Iraq by creating a client state dependent on military as well as economic assistance. Stivers’ discussion of how Britain shifted her position and his tactful comparative analogy with present U. S. policy in the Middle East sheds light on a point heretofore over-looked. His analysis of Western unwillingness to accept revolutionary nationalism in the twenties and the difficulties Washington is facing in adjusting its foreign policy to similar challenges in the eighties further exemplifies the value of this historic case study.

The Truth about the Neutron Bomb, by Sam T. Cohen. William Morrow $12.50

The truth which Cohen, the “father” of the neutron bomb, sets out to reveal is not simply a description of the invention, nature, and uses of the neutron bomb; more fundamentally, it is his contention that the story of the neutron bomb “proves that we cannot defend Europe.” With nuclear, strategic, and NATO issues again prominent in public discussions, this is a timely contribution, especially coming from a nuclear “hawk.” Unfortunately, the book suffers from a breezy, conversational, and highly personal style which diminishes the seriousness of the charges and claims that it makes.

Women and Poverty in the Third World, edited by Mayra Buvinic, Margaret A. Lycette, and William Paul McGreevey. Johns Hopkins $29.50

The main thrust of this revealing series of 14 essays is to explore two regions where information about poor women has been consistently deficient, namely those of women’s contribution to the economy of their households and the magnitude of their poverty. Much attention is given to the value of women’s time as it is spent working, child-rearing, and in other activities. It becomes clear to the reader that women in the developing world earn disproportionately low incomes compared to the extensive amount of effort and time they spend. This book should be required reading for policy makers who decide on the allocation of funds for development programs. They might realize then that their plans rarely “trickle down” to those who need it most: the poor women of the Third World. In order to be successful, development plans need to emphasize women’s economic growth and productivity and not simply offer welfare assistance,

Dilemmas of Pluralist Democracy: Autonomy versus Control, by Robert A. Dahl. Yale $18,50

In this important new book by a leading political theorist, Dahl presents a detailed analysis of the problem concerning the amount of independence organizations should be allowed from government regulation. He recognizes the need for a substantial amount of organizational autonomy, but he also stresses the need for a certain level of control by means of a “decentralized socialist economy,” a system designed to redistribute wealth and to strengthen integrative organizations. Such a system would lead to greater social consciousness on the part of citizens as well as more responsible actions by organizations, thereby lessening the necessity of external controls on organizations.

The Nuclear Delusion, by George F. Kennan. Pantheon $14

The material in this volume is not new to the Kennan Corpus. It consists of reprints of earlier works which have appeared in various journals over the past 33 years. It is still an important and timely volume for a number of reasons. Important in that it shows the internal coherence, continuity and consistency of Kennan’s thought concerning nuclear theory from his days as Harriman’s deputy in Moscow to the present. And timely, given the present concerns of nuclear nonproliferation, freeze, de-escalation, and deterrance that have caught the public’s fancy of late. Kennan presents two basic theses in the book. The first and major thesis is that nuclear weapons ought to be eliminated as either a deterrent or usable defensive or st


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