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Notes on Current Books, Winter 1993

ISSUE:  Winter 1993

An important volume of essays on the tensions that bedeviled the second American party system, by one of the most influential historians of antebellum politics. The collection, which includes two previously unpublished essays, is shaped by the author’s longstanding interest in the relationship between politics and the coming of the Civil War, and the fate both of third parties (the Antimasons and Know-Nothings) and major parties (the Whigs). A valuable introduction establishes agenda and context for the collection as a whole.

Main Street in Crisis: The Great Depression and the Old Middle Class in the Northern Plains, by Catherine McNicol Stock. North Carolina $37.50

Nowhere perhaps was the economic crisis of the 1930’s as devastating as in the Northern Plains, ravaged by drought as well as depression. Among the groups hardest hit in this region were the petty producers—the store-owners, farmers, small manufacturers, and professionals— whose family capitalism was already under challenge in an increasingly corporate world. Ms. Stock’s treatment of the fate of the old middle class in the Dakotas between 1925 and 1938 is rich in description and analysis. She takes her small-town hicks seriously, recognizing their qualities as well as their limitations, and she offers a subtle, sophisticated, and sympathetic interpretation of the tensions that were played out among the plains people between the forces of modernism and the stoic virtues of the old frontier.

Barcelona and Beyond: The Disputation of 1263 and Its Aftermath, by Robert Chazan. California $40

Chazan has written an absorbing book about one of the most important ChristianJewish encounters of the Middle Ages. The famous Disputation of 1263 pitched a Dominican friar against the rabbi of Gerona in a public debate over the “truth” of Christianity vs. Judaism. The friar used citations from Talmudic texts to attempt to convert Jews to Christianity and to demonstrate the “error” of their ways; the rabbi’s role was to dispute and refute such attempts. The key questions (what happened? who won? how has it been interpreted?) have attracted scholarly attention since the late 19th century, but even seemingly objective interpretations have frequently been subjected to partisan readings. Chazan studies both of the major written accounts of the debate—one Christian and one Jewish— plus the numerous interpretations of it. The contentious debate and its contentious reception and evaluation make for intriguing reading since the real issue was, naturally, the supremacy (both religious and political) of one religious group over another.

The Village of Cannibals: Rage and Murder in France, 1870, by Alain Corbin. Harvard $22.95

In August of 1870, a month after France had declared war on Prussia and a month before she was to suffer a catastrophic defeat at Sedan, a young French nobleman was subjected to unspeakable tortures and then lynched by a mob of ignorant peasants who accused him of shouting republican, pro-Prussian slogans. Only a few of the mob really believed this; but all got caught up in the savage, protracted torment of an innocent human being. The French historian Alain Corbin has taken this atrocity and made it into a metaphor for the fragility of civilization. The book is a small masterpiece.

America Discovers Columbus, by Claudia Bushman.New England $24.95

One of the literary highlights of 1992 was a spate of books celebrating the quincentennial that depicted Columbus as a villain and not a hero whose leadership led to the enslavement and death of the inhabitants as well as the destruction of their culture. In this profusely illustrated and well documented text, a professional scholar presents a different and plausible theme, namely, that the legend of Columbus was created by Americans in search of their own identity as a new and emerging nation.

The Broken Staff: Judaism through Christian Eyes, by Frank E. Manuel. Harvard $34.95

In what is not so much an historical survey of the “Jewish question” as a collection of useful and interesting observations on the long and uneasy intellectual relationship of Christians with Jews, Professor Manuel, as one should expect, has given most of his attention to the problems of cultural assimilation in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Although this approach leaves out a good deal of fascinating material on the views of contemporaries in an earlier period in, say, the Spanish kingdoms, England, Sicily, and the Italian states, there is much to be learned from the bio-bibliographical discussion of Biblical exegesis, from the comparison of divergent opinions of the Encyclopedists, or from the argument in defense of Judaism by Catholic historians. We may ponder the ways in which apologists on the Christian side used Judaism for their own purposes, or how Jewish resistance to conversion served to expose the defects in the Christian faith, or how Judaism, far from being a monolithic antagonist, was in fact composed of many different vested Jewish interests bent this way and that by political and social pressures. At the very least, the analysis will provoke us to rethink the familiar notion of a Judaic-Christian tradition, a brilliant invention which has blinded us to the historical reality.

Invisible Power: The Elizabethan Secret Services, 1570-1603, by Alan Haynes. St. Martin’s $24.95

This is a brief and fascinating account of two generations of spies and spy-masters whose intelligence efforts helped the vulnerable Queen Elizabeth I survive the machinations and powerful plots against her and her government from a variety of mortal enemies, foreign and domestic. Beginning at the moment of her greatest vulnerability, the year in which Pope Pius V issued his bull of excommunication of the queen, making her fair game for anyone, and ending with the accession of James VI of Scotland (who named himself God’s Spy) to the English throne, the book covers most of the plots (real or fabricated) against her, as well as offering an account of routine intelligence, the basic business of murder, kidnapping, forgery, and blackmail, use of codes and ciphers, disguises and aliases, the whole game often leading to imprisonment and torture, exile and sometimes public execution. Haynes is at his best in the narrative and personal accounts of famous historical figures and others dug out of the dark past like buried coins. The material is wonderful. The writing is, alas, often unworthy of it, purely pedestrian at best; and the specific history is complicated enough to be too obscure for many readers.

The Meaning of Freedom: Economics, Politics, and Culture after Slavery, edited by Frank McGlynn and Seymour Drescher.Pittsburgh $44.95 cloth, $17.95 paper

This collection of eleven essays by eminent scholars in the fields of economichistory and social anthropology examines the fate of the emancipated peoples of the Caribbean and the American South. The complex nature of freedom is examined thoroughly from these complementary perspectives. Despite some differences among the various contributors, the overall conclusion is that emancipation by no means guaranteed freedom, while the legacies of slavery permeated the culture and economics of these regions far beyond its legal demise.

The Fabrication of Louis XIV, by Peter Burke.Yale $35

In this book, Burke chronicles the multimedia construction of Louis XIV’s royal image. He offers a massively erudite collection of facts disposed into an admirably clear narrative. The book would make an interesting set book for an introduction to the period, or it could serve as a reference work for scholars in adjacent fields. Its primary weakness it shares with many works under the heading “early modern cultural studies” which, faced with a crushing quantity of material, awe the reader with demonstrations of the complexity of history but frequently fail to advance clear theses of their own. Such studies are correct to recognize the impossibility of reconstituting a material culture in a text, much less an argument, but they remain texts, and they can still advance arguments. Burke’s scope is so broad, however, and his knowledge so deep, that I find it difficult to imagine what else he could have done short of writing a book on a more restricted topic—that is to say, a different book. And, sure that he will, I also appreciate this work as an interdisciplinary icebreaker. I look forward to shipments to follow.

An Unwanted War: The Diplomacy of the United States & Spain over Cuba, 18951898, by John L. Offner. North Carolina $39.95

Excluding the vox populi of the North Americans and its reflection in the national Congress, the title of this careful and comprehensive survey of the deliberations among the policy makers on both sides of the Atlantic in regard to Cuba is accurate enough. That jingoism fanned by a sensationalist press was a major factor in bringing on the Spanish-American War is discounted but not exonerated. Instead Offner makes the very plausible case that a combination of elements, including nationalist aspirations of the Cubans themselves, distance between the mother country and colony, preoccupation of the succession of governments in Spain, all conspired to make conflict unavoidable despite genuine efforts, particularly on the part of the McKinley administration, to avoid it.

Getting Work: Philadelphia, 1840-1940, by Walter Licht. Harvard $39.95

This well-researched volume provides a useful addition to our understanding of the operation of the modern American labor market. After a careful analysis of the institutional and informational setting within which people searched for jobs, Licht concludes that “getting work [was] no mundane matter” for Philadelphians. Context, time, and place all mattered, making easy generalizations difficult, and suggesting instead a complex and highly individual route to each new position.

Anxious Decades: America in Prosperity and Depression 1920-1941, by Michael E. Parrish. Norton $29.95

This is the latest Volume to appear in the Norton Twentieth Century America Series, a set of relatively advanced college-level texts. It has no footnotes but a useful set of “reasoned” chapter bibliographies and a good number of illustrations. Political events, including those relating to the international scene, supply a narrative framework, but much attention is devoted to social and cultural developments, including the rise of consumerism, the impact of the automobile and of the film industry, and the vicissitudes of feminism.

LITERARY STUDIESMichel de Montaigne: The Complete Essays, translated by M. A. Screech. Penguin $60

The first unabridged English Montaigne in more than three decades, this rendering will inevitably be compared with the late Donald Frame’s. The similarities strike even a casual reader. Both versions originate in lifelong historical and critical scholarship on the author and his work. As approximations of Montaigne’s highly personal form, ideas, and technique, both are meticulously wrought, well-introduced, and judiciously annotated. Finally, to the extent possible in modern English, both suggest the essence of Montaigne’s deeppiled, serpentine, iridescent French. The differences between these rival versions can be reduced to one: voice. Frame’s is relaxed, immediate, lively, and exhilarating—rather more American than Screech’s, whose formality, distance, and studied dryness better suit a Fellow of All Souls. Which is to be preferred? If, as recent theory suggests, different translations serve the needs of different audiences, there must be a use, indeed a place of honor, for both of these Montaignes. Screech’s is the natural choice of students to whom the unlikely mayor of Bordeaux was the sobersided precursor (if not the begetter) of Descartes and Pascal. But for readers who experience the Essays as the record of a Renaissance genius passionately and tentatively thinking out loud, Frame’s translation is—and will long remain—unsurpassed.

The Dark Side of Reason: Fictionally and Power, by Luiz Costa Lima. Stanford $35

We have been greatly enriched by translations of the wealth of original literature being produced in Latin America, but unfortunately little of Latin American literary criticism has been made available in English. Thus we must welcome this, the second book of Costa Lima to be translated (actually it is an amalgam of two of his works in Portuguese). In some ways, it is disappointing to find how similar Costa Lima’s criticism is to the prevailing mode of Anglo-American criticism these days. Heavily influenced by Foucault, he practices a kind of New Historicism, and thus we get the predictable anti-Prospero view of The Tempest, complete with the obligatory defense of cannibalism as an alternative lifestyle hitherto unappreciated in the parochial West. Still, this is an intelligent and wide-ranging book, covering authors as diverse as Cervantes, La Rochefoucauld, Diderot, Rousseau, and Borges. Costa Lima’s central concern is the way religious and political forces attempt to control the imagination. Unfortunately, he uncritically assumes that because authors were forced to adapt the way they expressed their thought to the prevailing orthodoxies of their day, their thought itself had to conform. If he gave more credit to the authors he discusses, and stopped attributing their modes of expression to unconscious and involuntary factors, he might have come up with deeper insights into the problem of rhetoric in an environment of censorship and persecution.

Representing the Other: “Race, ” Text, and Gender in Spanish and Spanish American Narrative, by Paul Julian Smith. Oxford $55

In this challenging study by Hispanism’s most versatile theorist, Paul Julian Smith examines problems associated with “representing the other” in texts that range from the late 15th-century Celestina to contemporary Spanish and Spanish-American narrative. Smith’s central contention is that the division between history and theory is a false one; that issues of race, gender, and sexuality must be reexamined in the light of the poststructuralist critique of humanistic universalism. In his chapter on Fernando de Rojas, he argues that previous attempts to define the author in terms of his Jewish ancestry have tended, inadvertently, to reproduce the racism of the Golden Age. The essay on Teresa of Avila is less convincing in its endeavor to modulate the essentialism of the Venture feminine school. In his studies of the modern texts by Rosario Castellanos, Manuel Puig, and Juan Goytisolo, Smith contends that “even the most benevolent attempts to represent “ethnic” subjects may become enmeshed in those fantasies of the other. . . which remain so deeply engrained in Western culture.” Smith is at his best in unmasking the ideological bias of other critics; his attempt at rapprochement between poststructuralist and ethical criticism, though commendable, is less successful.

The Passion of Emily Dickinson, by Judith Farr.Harvard $29.95

Had Emily Dickinson read Henry James’ diary, she probably would have concurred with his remark, “to live in the work; that is the only thing.” Farr’s book explores how the poet sought to lead a life in and through art by showing how thoroughly she “coded” her poetry with allusions to contemporary literature and painting. Farr proposes that we can lay bare the poet’s thought by apprehending the borrowed finery in which she clothes it, yet an essential question remains unanswered: why does Oickinson wear so many masks? The book’s most valuable contribution is its analysis of Dickinson’s intense 35-year relationship with her sister-in-law, to whom she wrote many love poems formerly thought to have been addressed to a man.

Blake, Kierkegaard, and the Spectre of Dialectic, by Lorraine Clark. Cambridge $49.95

Blake and Kierkegaard may seem like an odd conjunction at first, and, given the notorious obscurity of both as writers, explaining one in terms of the other may seem like using quantum mechanics to elucidate the theory of relativity. And yet Blake and Kierkegaard had much in common: a radical Protestantism, a tendency to adopt weird personae, a contempt for conventional opinion, above all, the courage of their convictions, as well as what Nietzsche would call the higher courage for an attack on their convictions. Thus dark’s attempt to use Blake and Kierkegaard to illuminate each other succeeds in brilliant and unexpected ways. She uses her comparison of these two intellectual mavericks to make a larger point about Romanticism, in particular to challenge both traditional interpretations (of the M. H. Abrams variety) and more recent interpretations of Romanticism along deconstructive lines (such as Paul de Man’s). The key insight of her approach is her recognition of the antiRomantic side of both Blake and Kierkegaard, reflected in their rejection of the indeterminacy of Romantic irony. Clark thus shows that the much-debated issue of Romantic irony is more complicated than has been assumed, and in the process she succeeds in opening up new perspectives on the whole question of the relation of the religious and the secular in 19th-century thought. In short, this is an ambitious, wide-ranging, and thought-provoking book.

What Makes Sound Patterns Expressive? The Poetic Mode of Speech Perception, by Reuven Tsur. Duke $16.50

Although phonological studies of poetic language are often opaque, dull, and narrow, this study manages to bring an interdisciplinary breadth and rhetorical clarity to some of the mysteries surrounding the emotional and perceptual coloring of poetic sound-symbolism. Making use of psychoanalytic insights into the regressive play of poetic language, linguistic insights into phonological structure, and cognitive insights into aural perception, Tsur carefully and helpfully explains how poets can produce expressive effects by harnessing specific phonological potentialities of language.

H. D. ‘s Freudian Poetics: Psychoanalysis in Translation, by Dianne Chisholm. Cornell $14.95

After H. D. entered analysis with Freud in 1933, her poetry and autobiographical writing reflected the powerful influence of the father of psychoanalysis. Building on the work of Susan Stanford Friedman, Dianne Chisholm retells the story of H. D. ‘s rewriting of Freud. Unlike Friedman, she sees H. D. ‘s intellectual relationship with Freud less as acrimonious agon than as feminist elaboration, appropriation, and inheritance. In this intelligent and helpful reading of H. D. ‘s Freudian writing, Chisholm shows that H. D. absorbed Freud’s vocabulary but reinstated the female subject effaced in his psychoanalytic theory.

Critical Essays on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, edited by Harold Orel. K. Hall $40

Anybody who enjoys or loves Holmes and Watson will read this gathering of essays with relish. There are pieces by George Bernard Shaw, Max Beerbohm, and Andrew Lang on Doyle’s minor writings and contributions on his spiritualism, but the heart of the book is the corpus of ten essays on Holmes. Several of these touch on or focus on the redoubtable detective’s relations to the fin de siecle, on his connections to the aesthetic movement, thus placing him more squarely in his literary milieu. An essay on what’s funny in Holmes points toward a still underdeveloped theme in the bibliography (which now includes more than 12, 000 items)— that is, the delightful wit and playfulness of Doyle. G.

Negative Poetics, by Edward Jayne.Iowa State $29.95

Jayne’s project is fascinating because he squarely disagrees with many of the fashionable literary critics. For example, against the neo-pragmatists, Rorty and Fish, he maintains that “truth” and “lie” are useful distinctions and carry more content than whatever a given group at a given time happens to believe. Vis-à-vis Heidegger, Jayne maintains that fiction does not stand in truth, i. e., does not disclose reality as it is but rather fiction spreads a lie, i. e., it shows the world precisely as it is not but masks it in such a way that the reader takes the fiction for a probable/possible reality. Moreover, fiction for Jayne can be comprehended according to four models which Jayne calls, respectively, the cognitive, the homeostatic, the paranoid, and the affirmative fallacy. In brief, literature thus (a) persuasively tells a lie and masks it as truth, (b) cathartic-ally allows the reader to “suffer through” anxieties, (c) creates a dream world in which the reader forgets his own identity, and (d) enables a double denial to take place, namely, the real world is denied, the fictional world is affirmed, and the denial of reality is denied so that the reader affirms that no denial of his everyday affairs takes place through his engagement in literature. A key motif through all four models is Jayne’s demonstration of how the theme of homophobia occurs as an unconscious motivation in literature again and again. A challenging book which does not fit into any of the by now established antiestablishment theories in literary studies.

Slow Hand: Women Writing Erotica, edited by Michele Slung. HarperCollins $20

Michele Slung has edited an exciting volume. Female erotica is excitingly different from its male counterpart—too often male erotica is indistinguishable from pornography. These stories are stimulating, and they go sometimes a slow pace toward the loving-lustful encounter between women and men, women and women, and women having auto-erotic experiences. This book is daring in its directness: sexuality, nakedness, the sight, touch, and smell of sex is celebrated and problematized. Difficulties of men and women before, in, and after the sex act are described in refreshingly—but also shockingly— open terms. There is romance also but no harlequin-like prince or princess will jump out of these pages, nor are there any sexual superstuds to be encountered. These are real women the reader gets to know, young and old, experienced and innocent, frustrated and hungry for life and love. Women of different cultures and social classes all take up the invitation of editor Michele Slung: to write stories which “tickle my senses, make me feel sensuous or sensual, sexier, in fact, for having read them.” This collection is a success because of its rarity of theme: women having a voice in their most intimate affairs, women who take matters into their own hands and set the mood—a sensuous, slow mood.

LIVES & LETTERSEdgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy, by Jeffrey Meyers. Scribner’s $30

Although the appearance earlier this year of Kenneth Silverman’s Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance seemed to have closed the door on Poe biographies, Jeffrey Meyers’ Edgar Allan Poe reminds us that the story of a complex life can never be told too often, as all biography is selective and therefore always incomplete. Meyers’ version, however, is an especially compelling contribution to this effort. Meyers approaches Poe’s life chronologically, grounding his discussion of the writings in historical terms through liberal use of Poe’s correspondence. Though told in a straightforward narrative, Poe’s life emerges vividly in all its tangled drama—from his early days at the University of Virginia, to his marriage to a 13-year-old cousin, to his alcoholism, poverty, and mysterious death in Baltimore in 1849. Two final chapters on Poe’s reputation and influence are especially interesting, as Meyers explores the continuing presence of Poe’s work in our literature and our lives.

The Correspondence of Henry James and Henry Adams: 1877-1914, edited by George Monteiro. Louisiana $20

Their correspondence began soon after James moved to London and ended two years before his death. Only seven of these 36 letters are from Adams, and four are from James to Adams’ wife, “Clover.” Many have been published in other collections, but, as Monteiro points out, they are presented here without interruptions of other correspondents, and with misreadings and omissions corrected. We learn little about the two men that is not already known: that they were immensely interesting men who lived privileged lives, were highly educated, well-traveled, snobbish, mannered, detached, critical, and selfconscious. Monteiro, who has also published the letters between James and John Hay, and a book on Robert Frost, has provided informative notes, bibliography, chronology, a calendar of unlocated letters, and a long introduction. From it we learn that Henry James could make a pest of himself, dropping by uninvited to dine with the Adams when they were in London, and “chatting til late.” Clover, who could be as sharp-witted as her husband, remarked after she’d read Portrait of a Lady that Henry doesn’t bite off more than he can chew, but “he chaws more than he bites off.”

Simms: A Literary Life, by John Caldwell Guilds. Arkansa $35

This balanced and detailed study is the first full-length biography of William Gilmore Simms since 1892. Raised by his grandmother, Simms (1806-1870) lived in Charleston, S. C., where he published more than 70 books, including novels, essays, drama, and poetry. For the most part, Simm’s writing is wooden, unimaginative, and preachy (he was an outspoken supporter of slavery). But both the range of his work and his prominence as a Southern author easily make him a unique figure in American letters. Guilds, Distinguished Professor of Humanities at the University of Arkansas, also produced Long Years Of Neglect: The Work and Reputation of William Gilmore Simms in 1988.

An Autobiography: A Life in the Movies, by Fred Zinnemann. Scribners $29.95

For anyone searching for a standard biography of this great film maker, he will have to keep looking. This autobiography will excite the avid film buff and the serious student of film, for its subtitle clearly delineates the central thrust Zinnemann’s life passion has been the movies, and he has produced some absolutely wonderful ones: From Here to Eternity, Julia, The Day of the Jackal, A Man for All Seasons. Accordingly, he discusses each of his movies in loving detail, providing an interesting inside glimpse of what goes into a movie. Filled with wonderful black and white photos, it manages to be both a great coffee-table book as well as a source of information on the art of film direction.

Conversations with Isaiah Berlin, by Isaiah Berlin and Ramin Jahanbegloo. Scribners$20

Five enlightening and thoroughly stimulating conversations with the great historian of ideas, in which Berlin elaborates on his commitment to liberty and pluralism with characteristic clarity and insight. As Berlin himself says, “If you are interested in ideas and they matter to you, you cannot but be interested in the history of these ideas.” Conversations reads like a memoir, with Berlin recalling his early life in Russia, his immigration to England, his work as a diplomat, and his time at Oxford. Along with describing the influence of such people as Machiavelli, Marx, Vico, Herder, and Herzen on his thinking, Berlin also shares his personal reminiscences about W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Igor Stravinsky, Bertrand Russell, and many others. Recommended.

Soviet Odyssey, by Suzanne Rosenberg. Penguin $8.95

One of the better memoirs to come out of Russia in the past decade, Suzanne Rosenberg’s account of her life in Stalin’s, then Khrushchev’s, Russia conveys the agony of a nation in the grip of the most massive criminal organization in history, at least until the more numerous Chinese Communists came to power. What distinguishes the book, however, is the author’s ability to go beyond mere indictment—of which we have many—to an attempt to understand how it happened, and how perfectly normal, decent human beings got caught up in the apparatus and became accomplices in the crimes of the party.

The Essential Calhoun, edited by Clyde N. Wilson. Transaction Publishers 39.95

Wilson, editor of the Calhoun papers at the University of South Carolina, has compiled a valuable collection of excerpts from Calhoun’s speechs, writings, and letters. They reveal a man of considerable complexity, whose articulated thoughts on the nature of republican government and the American experiment continue to resonate 150 years after his death.

Patrick White: A Life, by David Marr. Knopf $30

Marr has given us an exemplary study of the life of the writer considered by Robert Graves to be the foremost English novelist of his generation. Complex, difficult, at times misanthropic, generous, at times indulgent, and private above all, Patrick White’s enigmatic, alienated personality saturates this biography. Manr’s treatment of his subject is at once honest and sympathetic, restrained and revealing. It deserves high praise.

Gail Hamilton: Selected Writings, edited by Susan Coultrap-McQuin. Rutgers $15

The letters and essays of Gail Hamilton may surprise those who have come to expect pious domesticity from 19th-century American women writers. Indeed, there are few sacred cows for this audacious writer who opens one collection of essays, not, like so many women of her day, with an apology for her style and an excuse for stepping out of the domestic sphere, but with a humorous threat: “I shall count it one of the greatest happinesses of my life if I succeed in pleasing you, and one of the greatest misfortunes if I do not. But if you commit this sin against me, I will never forgive you! Or, since that may be unscriptural, I will forgive you just enough to save my own soul, but not enough to be of any use to you.” In an essay on gardening which also humorously plays with gender stereotypes, she boldly asserts, in a long digression, that her style is, like that of man, never digressive. The American Women Writers Series must be commended for making available these terrifically funny essays; they remind us that humor in the 19th century was not the sole province of men.

Barbara Pym: A Critical Biography, by Anne M. Wyatt-Brown. Missouri $29.95

The novels of Barbara Pym, the author justly observes, are either intensely enjoyed or sharply disliked by their readers. Although this is called a “critical biography” it does not focus on the task of criticism, which is to explain the qualities of the work, to account for the pleasure that one derives from it. This biography is, instead, a psychoanalytic study, which dwells on Pym’s insecurities, frustrations, and attitudes toward death as reflected in her fiction. As such the study is useful, but for many of Pym’s admiring readers the real interest of her “life” will be found in the novels themselves.

“II Gran Cardinale” Alessandro farnese. Patron of the Arts, by Clare Robertson. Yale $45

When we think of Renaissance patrons of art, we generally recall the Medici or Pope Julius II for whom Michaelangelo painted the Sistine Ceiling and Raphael decorated his apartments. We should not forget, however, the Farnese, a rich and notable family of patrons in Rome, of whom, as Clare Robertson shows in this fine study, Alessandro Famese was the single most important figure during the middle years of the 16th century. Copiously illustrated, her richly documented work deals with architecture, painting, sculpture as well as with the Farnese collection of antiquities. At the heart of her enjoyable book is an excellent introduction to the Famese fortress-like villa at Caprarola, filled with allegorical frescoes appropriately celebrating the grandeur of their owner’s family.

Mark and Livy: The Love Story of Mark Twain and the Woman Who Almost Tamed Him, by Resa Willis. Atheneum $25

This excellent biography is the first of Olivia Langdon Clemens, Mark Twain’s editor, critic, and close companion for more than 30 years. Willis chronicles the couple’s literary achievements, financial disaster, and personal tragedies, including the death of their firstborn and Livy’s bouts with neurasthenia. The author based her work on a wide variety of sources, including much previously unpublished primary material. For the Twain specialist, the student of American culture, or those simply interested in a good love story, this biography provides many hours of splendid reading.

John Adams: A Life, by John Ferling. Tennessee $37.95

In this reliable and readable life-andtimes biography, Ferling makes a good case for the greatness of John Adams. Giving due weight to Adams* public service—as revolutionary, congressman, diplomat, vice president, and president—the author does not slight the Bay Stater’s personal relationships with his wife, children, and colleagues. In fact, given the mountain of material Adams left behind—the diary, correspondence, and memoranda of a long and eventful life and career—this onevolume work is a miracle of compression. Judicious and comprehensive, this biography should become the standard account of a remarkable life.

Leonardo da Vinci: The Daedalian Mythmaker, by Giancarlo Maiorino. Penn State $35

If Leonardo had not existed, the author remarks, we would have had to invent him out of our basic yearning for myth. Exploring the “archetypes” of Leonardo in this wide-ranging study, Maiorino sees the artist not only in relation to his contemporaries but through the lens of countless writers, including Goethe, Pater, Valery, Bakhtin, Barthes, and Foucault. His essay on the painter is less an historical analysis of the meaning of Leonardo’s works and accomplishment than a poetic meditation, if not reverie, on the mystery of an elusive giant.

FICTIONIsaac and His Devils, by Fernanda Eberstadt. Knopf $22

It is as if Eberstadt, like an Olympic diver, has aimed here to pick up points for a high degree of difficulty. Not content to trace, with a Dickensian subtlety of understanding, the inner life of a young boy, she elects to make her protagonist a certifiable genius, set down in the midst of a hick town in New Hampshire. And she brings it off elegantly: her portrait of a brilliant child’s passage to intellectual maturity rings utterly true. Her Isaac Hooker will remind some of Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces— the same combination of comic eccentricity and genuine sadness—but Eberstadt’s is in some respects a richer portrait. For she takes seri ously both Isaac—whose gift is no laughing matter but the real, one-in-a-million thing—and his devils: the demons of selfdoubt and madness that nearly do him in. The author writes an astonishing prose— lively, exact, and humorous, with two or three memorable similes per page—and she has employed it to render a funny and moving novel.

In the Heart of the Valley of Love, by Cynthia Kadohata,Viking $20

The year is 2052; the place, Los Angeles. Water is scarce. Riots are plentiful. Petty crime and corruption flourish underneath the yellow sky, a hallmark of the decaying environment described in this novel. Nineteen-year-old Francie narrates this tale of a diseased society. But soon in the telling, however, plot becomes mere situation and character only a vehicle for intrigue. Kadohata’s beautiful writing and eye for scene and dialogue are still not enough to carry the reader along in this, her second novel.

Every Crooked Nanny, by Kathy Hogan Trocheck. HarperCollins $19

Here’s a fresh voice on the mystery scene—a former cop who now runs an Atlanta cleaning service and who reluctantly preforms a missing-person investigation for a former sorority sister. The initial search turns into a murder case, which Julia Callahan Garrity, when not busy doing some heavy dusting, solves with the help of a fine and funny cast of cleaning women. Garrity is not known for verbal restraint, and she lets go on everything from urban development to suburban sleaze. This particular episode involves a bit of Mormon-bashing, but on the whole her targets are the pretentious, the pompous, and the powerful. Those are pretty good targets for a detective story, and this is a pretty good debut.

The Honor of the Tribe, by Rachid Mimouni. Morrow $18

The fascination of literary critics with Third World literature has thus far been confined largely to writing from Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. But American readers are now beginning to discover literature from the Arab world, particularly North African authors who write in French, such as Morocco’s Tahar Ben Jelloun. This is the first book translated into English by one of Algeria’s leading writers. Like Ben Jelloun in The Sand Child and Sacred Night, Mimouni draws upon the tradition of the Arabian Nights for his narrative technique, thus creating an Arab equivalent of the magical realism of Latin America. Like many works of postcolonial literature, The Honor of the Tribe chronicles the tragedy of modernization in a remote village in Algeria after independence. The novel seems to be a straightforward indictment of modernity and a celebration of Islamic fundamentalism, but only if one simply accepts the narrator as Mimouni’s spokesman. But perhaps the author means to undercut his character, particularly when he has him go on for pages expounding the most retrograde of Islamic attitudes toward women; for example, “women are diabolical.” And is there an underlying irony to the fact that the narrator, who condemns modern technology in such forms as television, is telling his story, a la Khomeini, into a tape recorder? Like much Third World literature, this novel may well be more complex than at first appears.

Infra Dig, by Ralph Mclnerny. Atheneum $19

This is a light and frothy tale of a young widow who accidentally runs over her querulous father-in-law (no great loss to her it seems), but then acts as though she had murdered him. Her attempts to secretly dispose of the body involve her with two petty (and not so bright) crooks who try (unsuccessfully of course) to blackmail her. The book is amusing, but reminds me of the old saw about Chinese takeout—one burp and you’re hungry again.

The Sins of the Father, by Allan Massie. Carroll & Graf $19.95

In 1964 Argentina two young students of German extraction, Franz Schmidt and Becky Czinner, fall in love. This simple and universal event opens the first act of a tragedy. For Franz’ father, Rudi, an obscure engineer working upcountry on a construction project, had been a highly ranked Nazi and instrumental in engineering the Holocaust. And Becky’s father, Eli, a noted economist and a Jew, who had worked for the German government in the Nazi 1930’s, reveals Rudi’s identity to the Israelis, who kidnap him and put him on trial in Jerusalem. The new generation’s love is trampled in the pursuit of justice for the old generation, and the legacy of hate and enonnous crimes twists the lives of the young. In this novel of ideas, it is the searing desolation of the emotional landscape that is most gripping, as Franz and Becky fight to build a kind of life out of the rubble of their fathers’ past.

Mystical Paths, by Susan Howatch. Knopf$23

The profound, underlying theme of human frailty and the unfailing grace of God characterize Susan Howatch’s latest novel. The men and women we meet in Mystical Paths are fallible, original, unpredictable but totally credible people whose fascinating dialogue is the principal means by which the tale is told. This time young Nick Darrow tells his story. He is the son of Jon Darrow of Glittering Images and has inherited his father’s psychic and religious nature. The book is not chiefly philosophical or religious, however. The characters in it are only too subject to the temptations of sex and egotism. Thrown together in the society of the Church of England, struggling with themselves and each other, these men and women form the basis of the narrative; the more sublime ideas come out in their dialogue. One such idea is of the interdependence of psychology and religion as different languages for the same truth. As Nick Darrow says, “I was hooked, just as I always was when religion and psychology were seen, not as mortal enemies, but as complementary approaches to a multi-sided truth.” A wise book with an intriguing mystery in it, a thriller in the deepest sense.

Chasing Uncle Charley, by Cruce Stark. Southern Methodist $17.95

The success of this hilarious and rambunctious first novel by a college professor cries out for a prompt sequel before the author returns to the publication of additional scholarly studies. His tale of the coming-of-age escapades of a 17-year-old Candide in the post-Civil War era Hill country of Texas is reminiscent of a cross between The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Lonesome Dove with the dash of a juvenile Walter Mitty. Pure enjoyment!

City of Boys and Other Stories, by Beth Nugent. Knopf$20

City of malaise is more like it. Don’t read too many of these stories at one sitting; the cumulative effect of so many haunted, disconnected characters is extremely depressing. Nugent brilliantly creates a world of darkness in which events create more unease than they initially seem to warrant; her prose is evocative and almost inexplicably disturbing. City of Boys is well worth reading; just don’t try it if you’re already feeling blue.

A Fatal Attachment, by Robert Barnard. Scribner’s $20

Readers of Barnard’s quiet and intense mysteries are rarely disappointed. They will surely feel his newest novel is up to par. It tells the story of Lydia Perceval, a writer of popular biographies, who cultivates the friendship of two teen-age boys from the local village. This seemingly innocuous relationship reopens old but still felt wounds, especially those of Lydia’s sister and her husband, whose boys had been emotionally highjacked by the highpowered and ambitious Lydia. The writer’s murder leads to a thorough airing of this fascinating tale of psychological manipulation and control.

The Big Picture, by Vanessa Drucker. Crown $20

Despite a massive overdose of explicit sex, this novel is well worth reading just for its stunning climax. It is a scathing account of the lurid scandals of the international art dealers’ world centered in New York City and the jostling for fame and fortune by the unsavory jet setters who inhabit the scene. Modern art is delightfully debunked, and there is an enlightening insight into the staid practices of the auction houses.

September Song, by William Humphrey. Houghton Mifflin $19.95

Humphrey has, over the course of a 40year literary career, displayed a remarkable versatility, producing several fine novels, a deeply moving memoir of childhood, and a pair of classics in the literature of flyfishing: The Spawning Run and My Moby Dick. But he began with short stories, and in his latest book he returns to the genre, with impressive results. September Song (like Humphrey’s previous story collection, A Time and a Place) is a gathering of tales on a common theme—here that of advancing age, lost powers, encroaching death. It sounds gloomy, and at times it is, for Humphrey’s has always been a grim vision, like that of his great model Thomas Hardy. But, here as in his other work, the author can’t keep this up for long before surrendering to his sense of humor: e. g., “Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man,” in which an aging writer, interviewed by the young journalist charged with preparing his obituary, seeks to cheat death by inventing a series of wild fabrications about his life. Like literally everything Humphrey has done, these stories are beautifully crafted; his admirers, a small but devoted band, won’t be disappointed.

Two Halves of New Haven, by Martin Schecter. Crown $19

This first novel’s premise is an intriguing one: a Yale medical student finds the abstractions of biochemistry and the chill of anatomy class encourage his confronting the very passions his studies ultimately threaten to stifle. He quits school in order to understand better these passions—for film and for other men. Unfortunately, Schecter—himself a former Yale medical student and recent M. F. A. —is a mannered and self-indulgent writer. His arbitrary play with different type-faces, with alternatively stylized and naturalistic dialogue, and with the esoteric Latinate vocabulary of medicine is wearyingly showy and unilluminating. Two Halves of New Haven evokes the complexities of lived experience less powerfully than it does the creative writing classroom. Despite its ambitions, this novel isn’t literature—it’s homework.

Cross My Heart and Hope to Die, by Sheila Radley. Scribners $19

Ms. Radley provides another fine addition to her collection of investigations of the psychological undercurrents of English village life. The murder is largely incidental to Ms. Radley’s purpose; it is the oppressive nature of rural life, and its human costs that engage both author and reader.

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRSPromises to Keep, by Richard N. Goodwin. Times Books $15

The American people are angry and frustrated by the corruption and malaise that has infected Washington. The politicians have conspired with a few greedy bankers and businessmen to pillage our land and economy to enrich themselves and reduce our standard of living. The author is the grandson of immigrants and a Harvard Law graduate who created the Alliance for Progress for President Kennedy and the Great Society for President Johnson. He thus has superb credentials to write this passionate political manifesto in a call for a new American Revolution. After documenting how we became mired in this mess, he presents a detailed blueprint for constructive change. This small book should be read and implemented by every American if we want to regain control of our country and restore our dreams and destiny for the future.

The Divorce Lawyers: The People and Stories behind Ten Dramatic Cases, by Emily Couric. St. Martin’s $21.95

Read this book for the pleasure of well defined plots, tragic and comic, about marriage, divorce, and the aftermaths. Or read the ten case studies for knowledge involving prenuptial agreements, joint custody, division of a business, accusations of violence, and more. California, New Jersey, Miami, and Chicago are some of the places presented where the different various state and local laws prevail. The lawyers (male and female) are “. . . among the finest in the nation.” The last chapter thoughtfully explains the problems of hiring a divorce lawyer. Available also are case source materials, a list of nationwide support groups, a glossary’ for the lay person, and a proficient index. Anyone can learn from and/or enjoy this well-executed book.

Super Tuesday: Regional Politics & Presidential Primaries, by Barbara Norrander. Kentucky $29

Super Tuesday 1988 was the most ambitious response to a buildup of criticism of the primary system that occurred in the mid-1980’s. A series of national commis sions had called attention to the shortcomings of the present nominating systems. These included the Hunt Report and the Miller Center Report of the University of Virginia. Criticisms called attention to the length of the campaign, the weight given to results of the early primaries, and the predominance of special interest groups at the national conventions. One reform proposed was a series of regional primaries organized by time zones and consolidating state primaries in three or four regions. Only the South undertook such a primary. Fourteen states participated. Those who claim the Southern primary worked call attention to the emergence of a moderate Southern candidate, Senator Al Gore who leapfrogged to third place for the Democrats. Supporters claim it also diminished the importance of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Critics deny these claims. Gore’s advantage evaporated in the more liberal northeast states. The South proved too big, too complex, and too important for a one-day election. Basically, the Southern primary was forgotten and not reinstituted in 1992. The value of the Norrander book goes beyond the Southern primary and is a gold mine of important electoral data.

The Constitution in Conflict, by Robert A. Burt. Harvard $29.95

This book explores the justification in democratic principle for judicial review of legislation and executive action. The author, a member of the law faculty at Yale, attempts to transcend the increasingly bombastic debate among “originalists,” “interpretivists,” “process theorists,” and critical “nihilists” by rejecting the conventional “Hamiltonian” equation of judicial authority with judicial supremacy. He embraces, instead, a “Madisonian” view that emphasizes the equality of the branches in constitutional interpretation and locates the legitimacy of judicial authority in collaborative politics. Burt uses history to elaborate his jurisprudence; the treatments of Madison, Lincoln, and the Brown school desegregation decision are especially thoughtful. The Constitution in Crisis is good political theory, good history, and a good read.

Red Odyssey: A Journey Through the Soviet Republics, by Marat Akchurin. HarperCollins $25

When the publisher identifies the author of this book as a Tartar, you know something is wrong: the word is Tatar, and the error points the way to a distressing lack of seriousness. Akchurin made his name—a rather small one—as a journalist in the Brezhnev era, which is to say he wrote what he was told to write. Now he has made friends with some Americans who convinced him he could write anything about the old USSR and the unwashed public on this side of the Atlantic would buy it. Not so. This is a trivial compendium of trivial encounters of a journey to nowhere. Not recommended.

Learning from Gal Oya, by Norman Uphoff. Cornell $34.50

Gal Oya or “Rock River” is the largest irrigation project in Sri Lanka. Since its inauguration in the 50’s, it has been plagued with numerous technical and social problems, This book documents the bright side, the success of an attempt to introduce self-managed farmer organizations to tackle one of the most intractable problems, that of water management.

America, Germany, and the Future of Europe, by Gregory F. Treverton. Princeton $19.95

Recent developments in Europe have created a palpable sense of anticipation, as the U. S. waits expectantly for the future Europe to arrive. This book masterfully outlines this emerging European order, and especially the diminishing American and transcendent German roles in it. Noting Berlin’s still undefined orientation, Treverton highlights the unresolved question of a German nuclear force, and the possibility of Berlin returning to a traditional approach of looking both East and West. Alternatively the new environment demands that America maintain a presence in Europe, but resign itself to a supporting rather than dominant position. In so doing, the U. S. should broaden its vision beyond Europe and at the same time focus greater attention on domestic issues. With this compact and incisive book, Treverton makes an impressive contribution to understanding the monumental changes in Europe and the pressing need for the U. S. to reevaluate its international profile.

A Cold Peace, by Jeffrey E. Garten. Random House $22

This work, which was underwritten by the Twentieth Century Fund, focuses upon the interrelationships among America, Japan, and Germany in the post Cold War era. The author maintains a semipopular style which should be understandable to anyone with a reasonable education. The historical framework is provided in a brief summary. Garten may suffer from some oversimplification, but the reader will come away from this book with an understanding of the issues in the “New World Order” and the limitations of America and its two allies. The book closes with a chapter on what must be done in this country to meet the challenge of the post Cold War era, which would be useful in obtaining a base line to evaluate the political rhetoric of last election year.

The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society, by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Norton $14.95

It should not be too surprising that Arthur Schlesinger’s 138-page essay is a best seller. First, he remains at age 75 one of America’s premiere historians despite his earlier reputation for brashness as the non-Ph. D. author of The Age of Jackson. Schlesinger, like Reinhold Niebuhr whose centennial he celebrated a few weeks ago, has demonstrated “the courage to change.” On foreign policy he sometimes displays a Burkean conservatism, however much he remains an unregenerate liberal. The present book is addressed immediately to an educational controversy in New York City involving Schlesinger and a radical black studies professor. Of more lasting importance Schlesinger asks some of the questions the man in the street is asking such as “can we get along,” “is the melting pot idea dead,” and “is America any longer capable of assimilating outside groups?” The future of American civilization may well depend on the answer. It is encouraging that a realist such as Schlesinger offers grounds for optimism in the midst of the burning of central Los Angeles and the relative inattention of the great power centers in the country.

Making America: The Society if Culture of the United States, edited by Luther S. Luedtke. North Carolina $34.95 cloth, $16.9


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