This book covers a fascinating period of history, the origins and development of Greek civilization, roughly from 1000 to 490 B.C. The thesis of Grant’s book can be seen in its title and its organization. He approaches his material geographically: his aim is to survey the contribution of as many Greek cities as possible to the totality of what we know as Greek civilization. Thus Grant is trying to avoid the concentration on Athens characteristic of most classical studies. Though he writes more about Athens than any other city, he discusses some 50 of the 700 cities known to have existed during the period he is covering. And he is interested in the rise of Greeks, not of Greece; his discussion is not confined to the borders of what now constitutes the nation of Greece, but ranges all over the ancient world, wherever the Greek people established footholds, including Asia Minor, Italy, Sicily, and even Russia. Drawing upon recent archaeological discoveries, Grant is able to shed new light on the least understood segments of Greek history.
In the age of star wars, the idea of a military revolution sparked by muskets and arrows seems almost preposterous. Yet Parker convincingly argues that this new firepower and the related growth of armies transformed European warfare and enabled the West to control 35 percent of the earth by 1800. A second military revolution between 1800 and 1914 expanded the Western dominion to 84 percent, an unprecedented global hegemony. Parker’s short, handsomely illustrated book may jar readers used to thinking of “the rise of the West” in cultural and economic terms.
Anyone who cares about Appalachia might approach this book warily, fearful of finding yet another collection of stereotypes. But have no fear: this book cuts through all the nonsense. Indeed, in its careful reconstruction of the world of the Hatfields and McCoys it goes a long way toward creating a new kind of Applachian history, one that shows how the same forces transforming the rest of America were also transforming the Southern mountains. It turns out that Devil Anse Hatfield was quite an entrepreneur, that many in his clan were in fact his employees in his lumbering business. It also turns out that one of the major reasons for the notoriety of the feud was the public relations work of a prosecutor who felt cheated by one of Hatfield’s business dealings. Our understanding of the feud will never be the same, and that is good news.
Gunn traces the changing interplay between political participation and economic policy making in the Empire State during the critical years of early industrialization. Ironically, efforts to make the political system more democratic and responsive to popular rule caused the diminution of the power of the legislature to control and direct economic development, tasks increasingly assumed by administrative and judicial bodies. As popular participation in the legislature increased quantitatively, that institution’s ability to make decisions and guide events decreased qualitatively. This transformation was shaped in large part by Americans’ adherence to the framework of republican values, although Gunn neglects to note how those very ideals were being tested by industrialization. An important and stimulating contribution to the history of the American political economy.
The Iberian peninsula was one of the first Mediterranean areas to be colonized by Rome, and the pacification was neither short nor easy. Six and one-half centuries of Roman domination (218 B.C.—427 A.D.) left a rich collection of archaeological artifacts and sites (many of which have still not been fully excavated). From the sophisticated pre-Roman inhabitants to the Roman conquest, colonization and beyond, Keay provides an informative and scholarly account of the Roman presence on the Iberian peninsula. The book is full of details and illustrations concerning mining, agriculture, government structure, customs, architecture, defense and war strategies, and religion. Good photos and maps, plus a “gazetteer of sites to visits” make this a readable and useful book.
We hear little of Ukrainian nationalism these days even though other areas of the Soviet Union are in ferment—Estonia, Latvia, Azerbaijan, and a few others. But the Ukrainians harbor deep and unresolved grievances, and in this, his last major published work, the distinguished historian Stephan Horak sought to highlight his homeland’s tragically brief brush with independence in 1918. Thanks to him and other patriotic Ukrainians, the tale will not be forgotten.
“We stand in our understanding of antebellum Southern thought,” says O’Brien at the outset of this collection, “where the study of colonial New England stood when Perry Miller came to revise the orthodoxy of Brooks Adams.” If the study of the Old South, or for that matter of the New, requires a Perry Miller, we could do worse than to nominate O’Brien himself, a young British historian who for 15 years now has been laboring with remarkable energy in this previously fallow field. Here as elsewhere he shows himself a graceful, witty writer, equipped with immense erudition and clarity of vision. His greatest gift, sorely needed in the study of Southern culture, is a knack for seeing through time-honored intellectual clichés, to the facts which often flatly contradict them. At times O’Brien’s determined revisionism seems excessive, as when he “solves” the mystery of the Southern renascence by essentially reasoning it out of existence. But most of the time his boldness and clarity are a tonic; we are lucky to have him.
When communism failed, Lenin brought back the capitalists in his New Economic Policy (NEP). Result: Russia recovered. Stalin and his men decided a few years later that the recovery was not proceeding swiftly enough and threw out the Nepmen and—at enormous human cost—industrialized the country. But what comes after industrialization? It seems Gorbachev and his people are taking a new look at NEP, and they would do well to read this outstanding study by Professor Ball.
This revisionist view of Philip IV paints the king not as the incompetent weakling who gave the reins of government over to his ministers (Olivares, mostly) and presided over the decline of Spain, but as an active, skillful, and intelligent man who worked hard to keep his empire intact. Stradling does not downplay the importance of Olivares, yet still finds Philip to be “the most persistently misunderstood, and obstinately undervalued, of the early-modern European monarchs.” Less energetic than his great-grandfather Carlos I or his grandfather, the “imperial” Philip II, he was nonetheless dedicated to the same principles of Habsburg absolutism and Spanish hegemony in Europe and the New World and worked tirelessly to maintain those principles. His failure to do so is studied by Stradling with intelligence and a careful use of original sources.
If a casual student of Southern history wanted a succinct progress report on the main currents of recent thought on the subject, this slim volume would be a good place to start, for nine of the leading historians of the region have crystallized their important work in the essays presented here. The topics range from religion in the Old South to the politics of Reconstruction to comparisons with South Africa to honor to the Agrarians to the “blackness” of Rhett Butler. No one could possibly agree with everything asserted in these essays, and that is one of the persistent joys of Southern history; there is something here to anger everyone.
Although this book bills itself as revisionist history, the result of groundbreaking research among Spanish shipwrecks and long-ignored archives, readers expecting a radical reinterpretation of the events of 1588 had better look elsewhere. For while Martin and Parker provide several important corrections to prevailing theories about what went wrong with the Spanish fleet, none is likely to challenge the broad view of the conflict articulated decades ago by Garrett Mattingly et al. Still, for the general reader at least, this book has something that most works of history do not: maps and illustrations, more than 150 in all, which prove an indispensable help in following the course of the battle and in understanding the crucial differences between the English and Spanish fleets.
No city even came close to Atlanta as the quintessential city of the New South. With only the shallowest of antebellum roots, the city flourished in the environment of railroads and cotton that marked the South after the Civil War. Russell has carefully compiled just about every statistic that can be compiled about the men behind the remarkable resurgence of this city, has combed every newspaper and collection of manuscripts. The result is edifying if not exactly electrifying. His argument is persuasive: from the very beginning and through the war and Reconstruction a vigorous class of businessmen pushed and pulled Atlanta into the commercial dominance of a large hinterland. It was their unabashed ambition that created the Atlanta that still embodies the New South.
1990 will see the Bicentennial Census of the U.S. And many of the same questions and problems are being asked as in the past: about the need for a census at all; about privacy rights and the intrusion of big government; about (under) enumeration and the status of minorities; about apportionment and the politics of the count. The census has long been more than a simple head-count and has long been a major source of data on the American way of life. What this book shows is how often the census questions were designed to fit the answers and how often the numbers taken have shaped subsequent policy. From the constitutional crisis of the 1850’s to the constitutional reforms of the New Deal and the New Society, the census has been a major part of political strategy. Its history is vital, and Margo Anderson tells it well.
Millions of people have visited this quaint and beautiful place in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and never had the slightest idea of what they were really seeing. Dunn, a descendant of one of the original settlers of the cove, has written one of the best books ever produced about the Southern mountains. It is a book without the special pleading, the false romanticism, the wishful thinking, or the arrogance that have marked so many books about the mountains. Dunn has written a clear-eyed and powerful account, and his main point is that the cove was never cut off from the main currents of American life. The officials who created the park drove out those who lived in Cades Cove and destroyed every vestige of change that had occurred there since the frontier days. It has fallen to Dunn to show this act of “preservation” for what it is: a falsification and reduction of life in Southern Appalachia.
“The essays of Andrew Lytle are not like any other literary criticism of our time,” wrote his lifelong friend Allen Tate. This big collection of those essays—most of them about his fellow Southern writers or the European masters of the novel—proves the point: Lytle’s criticism is highly subjective, idiosyncratic, sometimes dense and difficult—and nearly always brilliantly illuminating. Lytle is a traditionalist and a moralist whose reference points are those of his own Southern background and whose subject matter—no matter the announced topic—is always the condition of man (hence of art) during the decline of Christendom. Thus the uniqueness and the value of his criticism, thus what Tate called his “local universality.” The appearance of this book is a significant event in American literary history and one of several recent signs that Andrew Lytle, now in his eighties, is at last getting his due from the literary world.
It seems cruel to criticize this book harshly: it is an earnest effort, showing a deep interest in, and concern for, Conrad. Moreover, it is clearly written and well-organized. But the trouble is that it reads like a dissertation, and, what is worse, like a dissertation written circa 1965. Ressler has nothing really new to say about Conrad, and the critics he is responding to are from an earlier generation. He makes a few gestures toward contemporary approaches to Conrad in his introduction, but he makes no genuine attempt to engage critics such as Jameson and Hillis Miller. As a result, what we get in this book is the kind of bland, thematic, new critical reading of Conrad which has been done before and done better. Ressler uses terms like romance and tragedy loosely and uncritically, with no sense that they have accrued new meaning in recent criticism. His discussion of Conrad moves in the realm of platitudes, such as: “If reality so easily becomes illusion, if appearance so readily lends itself to self-serving interpretation, how can moral certitude be established?” This is all very true, but it can be said of hundreds of literary works, from Hamlet to Waiting for Godot. What is specific to Conrad in this vision? In general, there is nothing really wrong with this book: in fact it resembles many volumes which have been published on Conrad. But that is just the problem: one wonders why this book needed to be published at this point in Conrad criticism.
The publication of this revised version of Bogard’s book, which first came out in 1972, was designed to commemorate the centenary of O’Neill’s birth. It is one of the most useful companions to the study of O’Neill, commenting as it does on all 51 of his surviving plays. Bogard typically approaches each work from a variety of angles. He relates the plays to O’Neill’s biography and also supplies interesting details of their stage history. He does a good job of discussing literary influences on O’Neill, and in particular the way he drew upon the work of earlier playwrights, such as Strindberg and the German expressionists. The result is one of the fullest pictures available of O’Neill’s career as America’s preeminent playwright. The volume is punctuated by a remarkable series of photographs of O’Neill, which do more than anything else to tell the story of his development.
Nicholas Roe’s study is an important attempt to return Romanticism to its proper place as a political and social movement, as well as a literary and psychological one. The “feelings” of the period, long studied as the personal responses of a few gifted men, were profound and widely shared responses to a tumultuous time. Roe’s period is 1789 (when revolutionary fervor was at its highest) to 1798 (when reaction was so brutal that the authors of the Lyrical Ballads felt it necessary to move to Germany). Roe’s book is detailed and scrupulously researched and documented, but it is also an exciting narrative of two of the most interesting careers in English literary history.
“Nature never sends a great man into the planet, without confiding the secret to another soul”—thus wrote Emerson in his introductory essay to Representative Men. The coterie of souls at Harvard Press has labored well in producing a volume testifying to the accuracy of Emerson’s dictum. Emerson’s grasp of contemporary culture, philosophy, history, and letters is well reflected in the unobtrusive, informational end notes authored by Williams; these provide the only partially-initiated reader with a welcomed contextual framework for reading Emerson’s prose as it was intended to be read, as a nuanced intellectual tapestry. The essays themselves reflect a remarkable insight into human leadership. What this edition does is to provide the reader with a variety of levels on which to contemplate the thoughts of one of America’s most inspired writers.
Many of us tend to view Greek tragedy as a conflict between the large abstractions of free will (as represented by the tragic hero) and fixed fate (as represented by the prophet or oracle). But this absorbing study of Sophocles’ best-known plays works hard to place these abstractions in the context of an Athens where prophecy, often appropriated for purely political ends, was viewed with considerable ambivalence. Some may groan at the prospect of a book that bills itself as an application of current literary theory—namely, new historicism and linguistics—to classical texts. But Bushnell wears her theory lightly, avoiding the narrow reductionism that tends to plague criticism of this kind. And her prose is remarkably jargon-free.
The tale of Frankenstein and his neglected, unforgettable monster is that rare but real thing, a modern myth. Baldick sustains this thesis by locating the moral essence of the myth in our cultural responsibility for the world we have made and may remake for better or worse: “the production and reproduction of life in every domain from the sexual to the industrial.” A rhetorical and political history of “monstrosity” leads to a lively reading of Mary Shelley’s novel, but the chief interest of this book lies in its tracing the afterlife of the Frankenstein myth across the 19th century. And here Baldick makes out like Doppelgangbusters, offering fresh views of classic works from Moby Dick to Heart of Darkness and the science fiction of H.G. Wells, with excellent discussions of the monster topos in analyses of industrial capitalism by Carlyle, Dickens, and—with special favor—Karl Marx. A final chapter departs from symbolic and analytical texts to consider the role of the scientist in realist fiction. Briskly and cogently written, this is an important, original book.
The current vogue for rethinking the canon of English literature is likely to have its most lasting results in the way we look at 20th-century literature. Critics are beginning to realize that modernism is not coextensive with modernity, that the authors who claimed to speak exclusively for the 20th century, and who initially won the ears of academic critics, are not necessarily the most important of our era. By taking seriously two novelists who were among the prime targets of modernist critics— Arnold Bennett and H.G. Wells—this book can claim its place in the process of rethinking the canon of 20th-century fiction. Moreover, Anderson groups Bennett and Wells with Joseph Conrad, an affront to the self-conception of modernist fiction. Conrad is “supposed” to belong with novelists like Joyce and Woolf—with the experimenters and innovators in the technique of fiction—not with those dinosaurs from the 19th century, Bennett and Wells. But Anderson makes a good case for the group she adopts, and indeed Conrad appears in a new light when he appears in this company. Discussing Conrad in conjunction with Wells in particular places the emphasis on the content, rather than on the form of his fiction. Anderson does not do as much with her topic as she might have, but still this book is a step in the right direction.
Some of the women represented in this anthology are already well known in the English-speaking world (Allende, Lispector, Gambarro, Valenzuela); others will be new to North American readers. This collection contains 24 prose selections from 12 authors, and represents a mixture of styles and themes. The latter encompass both political and personal concerns, sex and love, distinctions of class and race, and historical and psychological realities. Several of the strongest voices—Traba, Piñón—should stimulate additional interest. Also included are pieces by Cabrera, Somers, Garro, Orphée, Naranjo, and Campos. With brief biographical introductions and bibliographies by Picón-Garfield.
In canonical Victorian literature the British Empire mainly serves as an exotic elsewhere one enters from or (more often) exits to. But this learned and incisive study shows how deeply—and how surprisingly early in the century—imperialist assumptions pervade Victorian narratives from the adventure yarn through the realist novel and the “Imperial Gothic” of fantasy fiction. Brantlinger both colonizes a range of noncanonical texts and explores the imperialist darkness at the heart of such standard authors as Macaulay and Thackeray, Kipling and Conrad. The unfamiliarity of his materials tempts Brantlinger too often into plot summary, and the ironies lurking in his topic provoke at times an oppressive condescension toward his subjects. Still, his mapping of the overgrown paths between Victorian liberalism and imperialism, abolitionism and racism, are invaluable guides to the imaginative politics of the last century.
Flaubert was the first modern writer to discover the technique, Dostoevsky perfected it, and Proust, Kafka, Beckett, and a handful of others adapted it to the unprecedented upheavels of the 20th century. The “it” is psychoanalysis, and in this provocative book Daniel Gunn explores the writer as practitioner. Not by some mere quirk of fate or genius was Freud a great writer; his double-barreled talents were interdependent, like Bach’s mathematical-musical gifts. This is an almost uncharted area of which Dr. Gunn has sketched the first map.
Shakespeare only said “first kill all the lawyers” because literary critics had not yet emerged as a mutant species. In the work under review, Andrew speaks of a “venerable tradition of male feminists,” emphatically declaring this no oxymoron. He says he aims to read the texts of several Russian writers “from a feminist point of view,” which may be something like giving birth from a male perspective. In any event this is an amusing book by a man who knows a lot about Russian literature and not much more than the rest of us about women.
Robert Harley vies with Sidney Godolphin and Robert Walpole for the honor of being Britain’s “First Prime Minister.” Brian Hill has written a detailed, complex political portrait of the man who played “a significant part” in the development of parliamentary government. Harley was a Puritan who found himself on the side of the Tories, a conservative who found himself in the vanguard of political change, a loyalist who found himself in constant conflict with King and Queen. Yet, as Hill concludes, it was a life well ordered and well spent. “His search for a balance between the legislature and the executive was a reflection of Britain’s search after the [Glorious] Revolution, and on the whole it was successful.”
This is the first new Western biography of Stalin in several years, and it indicates that the most essential pieces of the puzzle are still missing. Professor McNeal is a better writer than most of his competitors, and no one in the field is a better researcher, but the problem remains lack of sources. There is little that is new in this book, but it is nevertheless as balanced and comprehensive a treatment as we are likely to get until the process of releasing Soviet documents, now under way, gets up a full head of steam.
This detailed biography is no less heartbreaking than Home Before Dark, the brief memoir written by Cheever’s daughter, Susan. A charmer with a boyish face and manner, a wit who drank and smoked heavily, Cheever was a man who valued the stability of family life but who sought other lovers, male and female. His first story, based on his own experience after his expulsion from prep school, was published when he was 17 in The New Republic. Throughout this biography Donaldson has drawn parallels between the writer’s life and work. With sympathy for his subject, he has recounted the story of a man with little formal education who won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Medal for Literature. Cheever was a natural storyteller who could seduce the reader with his expanded anecdotes about middle-class people, always keeping a balance between the gray despair of their lives and its comic side. The New Yorker published 121 of his stories. His first novel, The Wapshot Chronicle, won the National Book Award. Donaldson unflinchingly details the shabbier side of Cheever’s personal life, his sexual confusion, his shaky marriage, and his battle with alcoholism that he finally won at age 63. Source notes are managed without clutter, but there is no list of Cheever’s works, nor of other works about Cheever.
This strange book, subtitled “A Novelist’s Autobiography,” is the sociology of Roth’s apprenticeship as a writer—a portrait of the young artist as a Jewish American. Roth the autobiographer doesn’t veer from “the facts”; his intention “wasn’t to transform meager facts into compelling fiction but to try to find ways to make of interest things that looked too ordinary.” Ironically, the life—growing up in New Jersey, marrying a Gentile woman, writing—is ordinary and uninteresting; the facts are not compelling or revelatory. The book concludes, however, with a letter from Zuckerman, that great invented writer and hero of five novels, to Roth. The 35-page letter is sharp and zesty, and it castigates Roth and advises him not to publish The Facts: “You are better off writing about me,” Zuckerman writes, “than “accurately” reporting your own life.” The Zuckerman voice pulsates with real life, unlike the autobiographer who is apologetic and seems half-dead. The truth, Roth implies, is that facts are more refractory and unmanageable and inconclusive than fiction. If you want truth, read and write fiction.
Did we need a biography of Buckley, the celebrity right-winger and popularizer of conservative thought? Judis, a liberal, has written one which is eminently fair, remarkably sure in its grasp of political ideas, and thorough without ever ceasing to be readable; in the process he has explained why such a book is necessary. It was Buckley, he shows, who by his energy, his broad interests, and his spectacular capacity for friendship, drew together the warring factions of the postwar Right into a single army which, marching behind the banner of his National Review, eventually captured the Republican party and the White House. Judis’ sympathetic portrait of his protagonist may surprise some liberals: his Buckley is a principled conservative, largely responsible for driving anti-Semites, John Birchers, and other unlovely fanatics out of the conservative mainstream; and he is a likable fellow, personally charitable and equipped with an endless capacity for enjoying himself. Buckley’s is a significant story, and Judis tells it well.
By and large, the letterpress edition of the Charles Willson Peale Papers is an invaluable addition to scholarship, in spite of its exorbitant price. The letters have been admirably selected and meticulously edited so that they are interesting and germane without losing their authenticity in matters of correction, spelling, punctuation, etc. The introductory essay, however, is deplorably inadequate and sketchy. The editors could have saved themselves a great deal of annotation and provided scholars with an admirable reference had they used the essay to explain the background of the letters more fully.
Biographical in nature, the essays in this volume offer fresh scholarly portraits of some of the most influential black figures of the 19th century. Some like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman are well known, others such as William Henry Steward and Peter Humphries Clark less so, but clearly all deserve recognition as pioneers in the fight for racial justice. Collectively, their stories illustrate many of the critical issues facing blacks during this period. Should freed blacks try to integrate or separate from the American mainstream? What balance should be struck between promoting the rights of blacks and maintaining the good will of whites? This is an excellent reader for all interested in American history.
The memoirs of a preeminent historian recalling his coming of age in Berlin during the explosive 1920’s should make for enthralling reading. Strangely, however, this book is wooden, the prose plodding—as if the author were writing merely out of the historian’s duty to record the facts, but not in his own voice.
“These letters might be a diary,” says Russell Kirk in his fine introduction to this volume. Indeed Randolph, the brilliant, fiery Virginia politician, seems to have confided almost everything to the Richmond physician who was for 20 years his main correspondent. Thus the letters comprise one of the best portraits we have of this enigmatic figure: his public eccentricity is well known, but here is revealed a different Randolph, kindly, melancholy, equipped with a considerable fortitude in the face of tragedy and a surprisingly heartfelt Christian piety. The letters are such a useful resource that one must regret that they are here presented so badly. Shorey’s explanatory notes are seldom adequate to illuminate Randolph’s highly allusive and elliptical letters, and there is, unbelievably, no index: a researcher attempting to use the collection would need to read it straight through in search of his topic. This book, welcome as it is, simply underlines the need for a scholarly edition of all Randolph’s letters.
The seven men whose autobiographies are dissected here include William Hale White (Mark Rutherford), George Tyrrell, a Catholic convert, Samuel Butler of The Way of All Flesh, George Moore (concentrating on Memoirs of My Dead Life but also commenting on Confessions of a Young Man, Avowals, and Hail and Farewell), Ford Madox Ford’s 1911 Ancient Lights, and finally Yeats’s Reveries over Childhood and Youth (1915). There is an initial chapter, “Of Memory and Imagination,” in which Dawson describes his book as “about men in crisis, about middle-aged men looking back on their lives from across that “deep chasm,” not of war, but of time.” There is also a closing chapter on “Recollecting Selves: The Province of Memory,” in which he analyzes the “autobiographical reconstruction” of their lives in which these different men indulged. Dawson also sends out tentacles of analysis of other writers about self—Proust, Freud, for example—and uses them tellingly to comment on his chosen seven, who, as he says, “may want. . .to move beyond “the powers of memory,” to achieve a disciplined and emotionally satisfying discourse; but they write of and about a remembered self.”
“Tell me a man’s ambition,” Cecil Rhodes once declared, “and I will tell you his price.” And, as Brian Roberts makes clear in this highly readable life, one’s price was not always measured in pounds and pence. Mammon served the cause of empire; Rhodes’s ambition was to impose his control from Cairo to the Cape. All of this would serve the British Empire, although Rhodes displayed a curious distaste for the homeland. Rarely revealing his innermost self to anyone, he allowed his private life to be consumed by his ambition. Roberts writes with empathy and understanding, even with admiration, while casting a critical eye on the consequences of his subject’s self-absorption; yet he never quite unearths the roots of Rhodes’s character and personality. This lively account will remind the American reader of the robber baron lore about Carnegie, Rockefeller, and others.
This is an important document, although not because it has any literary or scientific pretensions. Rather, like Mark Vonnegut’s The Eden Express, this memoir is compelling as a record of schizophrenia, as told by one who suffered from it. Weisskopf-Joelson, an Austrian Jew who emigrated to the U.S. in 1938 (a fascinating story in its own right), describes the sinister and paranoid logic that overtook her during a schizophrenic episode in the 1960’s. She tends to romanticize her illness (this problem is ably demystified in an afterword by Victor Frankl), yet one can see why she might after reading the book, which was put together following her death in 1983. It should provide an important public service by helping to educate its readers about mental illness.
“A Jew belongs on the land,” pronounced the author’s uncle Max. And this is her directly told, nostalgic story of childhood on a farm near Cincinnati. Written at the age of 87, this is the author’s first book.
Edgerton’s first two books were comic novels. The very first—Raney—was particularly hilarious, and the somewhat misleading jacket copy on this third effort suggests it may be, too. But while the author still can’t resist a pratfall or two in the first 180 or so rather leisurely pages of The Floatplane Notebooks, what we end up with is a harrowing account of the effects of the Vietnam war on one individual and one family. As such, after the sitcom and the rural North Carolina folklore, it is ultimately one of the saddest stories ever told. During the earlier years of Edgerton’s episodic chronicle the focus is somewhat diffused but its separate elements are exceptionally well done. There is a hunting sequence, a depiction of a kind of lost Eden, that merits comparison to similar genre scenes in Turgenev, Tolstoy and Hemingway.
The author’s second collection of short stories reveals him to be a master storyteller who should appeal to a wide audience. Although set in the South, primarily the “land” of inland Virginia and the “sea” of the Chesapeake Bay region, his characters face issues which readers from all parts of the country can readily identify. His stories deal especially with the clash between old and new values in various contexts, but particularly in the struggle to maintain relationships—between parents and children, husbands and wives, individual and community. Deeply moving stories of ordinary lives written by an extraordinary author.
For J. F. Powers, the secret lives of ordinary men are the stuff of divine comedy. This wonderful comic novel, his first in 25 years, is the story of the increasing engagement of Joe Hackett, would-be saint and ordinary parish priest. Father Joe, who wore a hairshirt in seminary and wished to emulate St. John of the Cross (“one of the all-time greats, perhaps No. 1”), is now in middle age a “short, fat, white Satchel Paige” who drinks beer and watches the Twins on the tube. He is overcome with money problems, an ignorant curate, and his fellow priests—Mooney, Cooney, and Rooney. But he never loses God or his sense of duty as a priest, for he knows the church is the means of salvation for people and for himself. Father Joe learns to make the necessary sacrifices demanded by his parish of sinners without sacrificing his faith or the integrity of the church. There is no one in American letters like J.F. Powers; he has an almost merciless eye for the petty pace of everydayness, and his plain prose is hammered out with precision and fire. By delineating the ordinary work of a parish priest, life is illuminated suddenly and universally, and it is shot through with the constant, flickering light of grace.
This exquisitely crafted, beautifully told story of an Anglo-Irish family moves magically between the past and present. Evoking the effects of historical events on family life—World War I and the Irish conflict— the author tells his story in a spare, haunting prose that deserves to be read slowly, as if it were poetry.
Picture Oh God! with Hamlet instead of John Denver as Yahweh’s prophet to suburbia, and you have something of the feel of this surprisingly unsentimental first novel. Swain Hammond, a stiff, cautious, overly intellectual professor’s kid, seems well suited to minister to a congregation of Chapel Hill liberals just like him. Then, without warning, he begins to hear God— in the backyard, in the stereo headphones, in the outfield during a ball game. These collisions with the numinous pretty well wreck his ministry as they awaken the deepest yearnings of his soul and body. In short order he lusts after a parishioner, slugs her husband, and, worst, tries to effect the miraculous healing of their blinded son. This Carolina writer offers striking vignettes of her preacher in action, and is at her best revealing the foibles of a Southern liberal congregation caught between its reverence for tolerance and pluralism and its fear of emotionalism. But Payne should have tried harder to make her “wimp preacher” more likable; while incisive, the portrayal is seldom genial. Her insecure man of God hates kids, animals, his dead parents, and much of his parish. And the narrative mirrors its protagonist, getting stuck in his feelings of disorientation and anger following his Father’s disturbing reappearances. Nevertheless, as a work of penetrating psychotheology, this Revelation offers many: more good sermons than most readers will have encountered in their months of Sundays, a wonderful epiphany, and a few resonant lines. One favorite: “God’s as real as a station wagon.”
The avant-garde dramatist Fernando Arrabal (The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria, And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers) creates in his first novel an intricate psychological war played over a championship chess match in Paris. He weaves details of the backgrounds of his two antagonists—the Andorran-Spanish Elias Tarsis and the French Marc Amary—into a complex pattern of deprivation, religious fanaticism, political action, violence, eroticism, and fear. A Soviet minister is kidnapped. Is Amary behind it (as Tarsis suspects)? Will Saudia Arabian oil fields by bombed? The chess match—pitting scientific rationalism against artistic intuition—explodes in a climatic trial on the board when Amary’s halucinations trap him in a nightmare with a surprise ending. Winner of Spain’s prestigious Nadal prize.
David Plante takes us on another short, intense incursion into the realm of the Francoeurs, the French Canadian family who populate the best of his fiction. The Francoeurs are never at ease in the world; for them it is an arena of sin and guilt, a place tolerated at best, never indulged in. The protagonist of The Native, Philip Francoeur, has tried to escape the fate of his family, marrying Jenny, a Southerner who exudes the health of the common-sensical, the everyday, the life-loving. Plante’s novel records the struggle, the spiritual tug-of-war, played out between Jenny and Philip’s mother, Reena Francoeur, for the souls of husband and son, daughter and granddaughter. The Native is a spare work, monomaniacal in its focus on the grand issues and dismissive of the frills which constitute most of human activity. Such intensity would become shrill if sustained too long, but for the 122 pages of this work the tension is the reader’s pleasure.
“This is a novel where everything is true,” the author tells us. And so bizarre is this truth, “that it could not be expressed except in the language of the imagination.” Perhaps. The intimate Perón depicted is both a fool and a megalomaniac. This may be true, but the Argentine dictator was also a great deal more than that. This book serves the interests of fiction more than those of history; it plays to the current politics of Argentina rather than to posterity. Most truths have been left out.
Eve is the mother of all who live, and the mother of all who die; Edward Le Comte’s sad-eyed lady does not let the reader forget that to be one is to be the other. That is not to say that she—or the novel which is her account of the days in Eden and after—is joyless; the book’s wit is inseparable from its poignance. The characters’ juxtaposition of sassy 20th-century slang and elevated literary diction can be jarring, but the book would be less interesting without the sometimes odd mix. Its allusiveness, though, is its greatest strength; for, recognizing the wisely beautiful language of poets and philosophers from Solomon to Tennyson, Milton to Blake, the reader feels the mother of artists still living in her long-dead children’s worlds.
When a colleague persuades Jacob Lomax to help out on an old case, the Denver private detective is not too enthusiastic. A 20-year-old jewel robbery leaves a mighty cold trail. But when his unfortunate friend ends up murdered, Jake’s interest is piqued. Suddenly the recovery of the jewels seems possible, and the reward money offered is more than enough incentive for Jake to make the search. The story is well-plotted and smoothly written but offers only a pale imitation of the Hammett/Chandler detective. Mildly amusing it is, tough it ain’t.
Two versions of the same story, one complete, the other longer one unfinished, are here presented in translation better than the stories. The unfinished novel, The Pink and the Green, was discarded in 1837. The complete story, “Mina de Vanghel,” was written in 1830. Neither one represents Stendhal’s best work, though both exhibit his characteristic style and substance. The translation is better than the works warrant, though perhaps not too good for the author.
As in her other novels, Elizabeth Jolley here presents a group of unlikely characters engaged in activities that told by someone else would seem normal and commonplace but that in her hands turn into something very peculiar indeed. A desiccated academic type, Edwin Page, his obstetrician wife, Cecilia, with her obsessive shrill laugh, a pandering new next-door neighbor who provides the “sugar mother” in the shape of her willing daughter Leila, and assorted friends of Edwin and Cecilia: all of these inhabit an Australian world that may seem as strange to Australians as it does to us. Is it necessary to explain that “sugar mother” is Leila’s mother’s understanding of “surrogate mother”?
Underneath Yorkshire are the coal mines with their dark corridors snaking in many directions. Above live the miners with their families, their friends, and their enemies. The tale told here is of a little girl who disappears, of her suspected murderer who apparently commits suicide, and of what happens when the suspect’s son comes home from the sea to find out the truth of the matter. Detective-Superintendent Dalziel and his subordinate, Inspector Peter Pascoe, who have appeared in other mystery novels by Hill, are involved. The final working out of the plot takes place violently underground.
Like Rachel Billington’s earlier novel, The Garish Day, Loving Attitudes shifts from person to person, place to place, with bewildering rapidity. A child born 20 years earlier suddenly appears to disturb the various people who have some connection with her. You can follow the story from point to point but it is not easy; and it is difficult to feel that it is a rewarding task.
If the business of art is not beauty but to butcher whatever coddles the mind, then this rock-hard, razor-sharp collection of stories succeeds admirably as fine art. These 14 comic and terrible tales cut right to the bone, slicing through the fatty tissue of our vanities and conventions. None of the characters live in a world where sanity is possible; everything is open to dispute, mutation, or outright cancellation. A quartet of stories deals with an out-of-work, middle-aged man, an afflicted, back-sliding liberal, self-aware to a fault, who suffers from severe, broad-spectrum anxiety and a deep abiding love for his wife. DeMarinis may believe we have lost the ancient power to shock, but his fiction rages and refuses to be forgotten, and surely we are left with an uncoddled mind and a heart shorn of sentimentality.
Holmes receives a letter from an old schoolmate and “the game’s afoot!” He and Watson journey to an isolated country estate where a wealthy mine owner has been murdered. Everyone involved has a motive, but who is guilty? This is Greenwood’s second Holmes mystery. She purposely tells her story in the remarkable style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself. Fans of the great detective will not be disappointed.
Newsday’s national security correspondent, in a lucid, carefully researched, well-knitted recital, describes how a tiny country, with the most unstable political system in Central America, became the longest running, most damaging of the Reagan administration’s foreign policy failures. With every evidence of responsible investigation and without noticeable bias, the author sets forth the actions and players in the Administration’s inconsistent, ineffective, and often deceptive policies toward Nicaragua. Taking the reader inside the White House and State Department, in both of which rival factions resorted to intrigue, backstabbing, and conspiracy to pursue their conflicting views of what U.S. policy should be, Gutman portrays officials deceiving each other, Congress, the public, and the president. A far from edifying story which the author relates responsibly to produce an informative, well-written account of how the United States once again revealed an astonishing political and diplomatic incompetence. Once again, too, is revealed the inadequacy of our political system for the development and implementation of foreign policies conducive to our national security.
Thomas Patterson is an historian at the University of Connecticut who has been a persistent critic of oversimplified theories of the Cold War that equate the threat of Nazi Germany and the postwar Soviet Union. He questions whether the threat of a military invasion of Europe which policy-makers used to marshal congressional support for NATO and the Truman Doctrine is the true Soviet threat. The book is an update of Patterson’s well-reasoned views.
This collection of essays on the modern presidency, authored by a group of British observers, is a relatively conventional treatment of our nation’s highest office. The pieces by David Mervin on the president and Congress and by John Hart on the president and his staff are well written, providing some new insights, and most of the other essays are useful references for those desiring a quick read. What we find here, however, mostly reflects contemporary American scholarship on the presidency, rather than generating anything unique from the perspective of outsiders; there is virtually no comparative assessment. This perhaps renders the volume quite useful for the British reader, but Americans will be denied the fresh perspective those overseas might bring to an often overworked topic.
Iranians are angry at their portrayal as crazed fanatics governed by a madman and bent on imposing their revolution on unwilling societies. This inside story conveys a sense of what Iranians want and what guides their values and interests. According to the author, Iranians want respect in the international community, will bear any hardships to get it, and are motivated by strong religious principles. Thus revolutionary Iran’s power is real because of its legitimate nature even if it is not absolutely secure. Remarkably detailed and revealing, Inside Iran describes the troubled soul of a people caught in a whirlwind of instability.
This book begins with the death of American advisors in Vietnam in 1959 and ends with the ultimate fall of South Vietnam. Within these parameters, the authors have provided a very readable and comprehensive narrative of the Vietnam War. The intent of the book, however, is not just to give a history of the war, but rather to give a feeling for the American experience in Vietnam. Its real strength, then, is the eyewitness testimonies and the many, often dramatic, photos which the authors have interspersed with their text
Anyone who has ever worked in Africa has, at one time or another, posed this question to themselves. Africa’s predicament is so overwhelming that it seems beyond the capacity of human beings to correct. Even the general public has become inured to ceaseless images of drought, famine, poverty, and war. That makes Whitaker’s achievement all the more impressive. Her book is not just another c