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Notes on Current Books, Winter 1994

ISSUE:  Winter 1994

As this book shows, opera has had a surprisingly long and varied history in the United States. Today many people think of opera as the epitome of highbrow culture, but in fact it has been a popular art form in this country just as in Europe. Thus Dizikes does not confine himself to a rarefied account of pure aesthetic achievement. On the contrary, his book is filled with the kind of blood and guts elements one expects on the operatic stage: stories of clashing personalities, illicit romance, backstage intrigue, shady business deals, mobs, riots, and shocking death scenes. It is, for example, eye-opening to read Dizikes’ account of P.T.Barnum’s merchandising of the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind, during her American tour in the 1850’s. All the techniques of manipulating the media and packaging a superstar that we think of as quintessentially modern were already old hat to Barnum. Dizikes’ book marshalls an enormous amount of information coherently and is lavishly illustrated with period drawings and photographs. This book will prove fascinating to opera lovers, but those interested in American studies will also find that Dizikes has written an important chapter in the cultural history of the United States.

American Slavery, 1619—1877, by Peter Kolchin. Hill and Wang $25

One begins to understand the depth of Peter Kolchin’s accomplishment in American Slavery by looking at the 34-page bibliographical essay which closes the book. The scholarly literature about slavery in the United States is extensive and detailed, yet Kolchin, a professor of history at the University of Delaware, has managed to draft a narrative history that is not only comprehensive but also eminently readable. Examining the nation’s “peculiar institution” from the advent of the colonial period through the close of Reconstruction, Kolchin explores the complex dynamics between slaves and their masters, traces the development of a distinctive African-American culture, and places slavery in the comparative context of Russian serfdom and New World slavery in Brazil and the Caribbean. The broad scope of this book also allows Kolchin to discuss American slavery as an evolving institution and, likewise, to review the evolving attempts of scholars to grapple with this difficult history.

The Phoenix and the Flame: Catalonia and the Counter Reformation, by Henry Kamen. Yale $45

Kamen studies the ways in which the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation marked the daily lives of the residents of Mediona, a small town in Catalonia. With impressive detail he reveals how the customs, beliefs, and actions of common people were changed by the waves of protest and resistence that characterized 16th-century Spain. He focuses mainly on religious change and issues of faith from the “bottom up,” that is, people instead of institutions. The results are revealing, since he concludes that Counter-Reformation Spain was not a monolithic, antimodern culture unmarked by the spirit of the Reformation, as has previously been believed. The historical evidence is adduced from numerous unpublished documents and contemporary sources, and laid out in a vast, readable narrative. Kamen has written authoritatively on Spain before; this book is a triumph.

American Progressive History: An Experiment in Modernization, by Ernst A.Breisach. Chicago $13.95

The progressive era was one of the most hopeful and productive periods in American history. Many of our current, liberalminded political beliefs and goals derive from progressive ideology. Despite the importance of progressivism to 20th-century America, relatively few comprehensive histories have analyzed this social, intellectual, and political movement. Ernst Breisach’s study contributes more to our understanding of the period than other studies and fruitfully locates progressivism in a broad historical and cultural context. The later chapters concerning the development of progressive ideology after the 1920’s are particularly useful, since most studies limit their scope to the first quarter century. Breisach’s prose is rather stolid, and he could give more attention to the effects of progressivism on the social position of women and minorities. Still, his book has a wealth of information and an interesting analysis to offer American scholars of this era.

Turning the World Upside Down: Inside the American Revolution, by John Tebbel. Orion $27.50

Following in the footsteps of the French historian Claude Manceron, Tebbel, a former journalism professor, aims to give the general reader a fresh view of the American Revolution by concentrating on the experiences of common soldiers and civilians. In this he is largely unsuccessful; for while the book is lively and full of good stories, it is still essentially a narrative about the course of the fighting of the war, and hence a book about the major actors on both sides of the battlefield. The book is also written in the present tense, which is somewhat disconcerting at first, and the use of slang and idiomatic expressions can be annoying. Finally, some factual errors and the lack of source notes make the book unreliable as history.

The Making of Europe. Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change: 950—1300, by Robert Bartlett. Princeton $29. 95

It is useful to have a book which reminds us that the Middle Ages were themselves made by constant conquest and colonization, and that, consequently, the foundations of European dominance, the opening of wider Western windows on the world, were laid not in 1492, or 1498, but many years earlier. In a far-ranging study of this kind, however, the job of putting together the social, political, legal, religous, economic, military, and racial pieces of the historical mosaic is extraordinarily difficult. The result is not so much a clear image, as an appreciation of the importance of the parts. Europe tends to be defined in terms of what is European, so that the value of this work is more in the discussion of the types of internal colonization in the period, rather than in the elaboration of a European model for development abroad.

Cavaliers and Roundheads: The English Civil War 1642—1649, by Christopher Hibbert. Scribner’s $27.50

This work offers a sound general overview of the English Civil War. All of its participants are vividly fleshed out by way of letters, eye-witness accounts, and solid research on the part of Hibbert. Though its focus is clearly on military matters, it somehow leaves the reader with the sense that this is an equally viable social history, which goes far beyond the mere economic and political conditions that were the cause of the separation between monarch and governing body. Perhaps the only aspect of the work that scholars might call into question is the way in which it reads: Hibbert seems to be content to tell the history rather than report it.

The First Jesuits, by John W. O’Malley. Harvard $35

The author, a professional Church historian, and himself a Jesuit, discusses the first decades of the Society of Jesus in the middle of the 16th century. Although attentive to the early internal development of this important and controversial religious order, he stresses the variety of its engagements with the culture and the institutions of the times, not only in Europe but also in Brazil and India and deemphasizes its involvement in the phenomenon known as the Catholic (Counter-) Reformation.

Redeeming the Republic: Federalists, Taxation, and the Origins of the Constitution, by Roger H.Brown. Johns Hopkins $38.50

The author believes that the key to understanding the constitutional revolution of 1787 is the failure of Congress and the states to tax effectively in the 1780’s. The Framers abandoned the Articles of Confederation rather than amending them, because they thought that tax delinquency was caused by indolence and extravagance, that the states were too weak to enforce taxation, and that only a strong central government that acted on individual citizens would be strong enough to compel collection. Brown closely examines the tax policies of four states—Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts—and describes a cycle characterized by passage of heavy taxes to be collected in specie, popular resistance against these measures, and a retreat from vigorous enforcement with the enactment of tax relief measures. Federalists believed that this laxity was corrupting and would destroy the republican experiment. By creating the Constitution, the Federalists would put the Union on a solid economic footing and mold its citizenry into productive, virtuous and frugal men. Historians will debate Brown’s hypothesis, but they will also be grateful for the amount and quality of research into state tax policies in the 1780’s.

Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Edwards, and the Representation of American Culture, edited by Barbara B.Oberg and Harry S.Stout. Oxford $35

This interdisciplinary collection of essays written by distinguished scholars of history and literature largely succeeds in downplaying the stark contrasts that traditionally have polarized two of the greatest figures of 18th-century America in the eyes of later generations. Instead these authors present Edwards and Franklin as united in sharing the essentials of much that defines the uniqueness of America—the sharing of a common and pragmatic concern with virtue and the life of the mind.

Acts of Discovery: Visions of America in the Lewis and Clark Journals, by Albert Furtwangler. Illinois $29.95

With the journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition as his point of departure, Furtwangler takes us on a trek through the fields of history, science, and literature. The result is an impressive accomplishment in the best American-studies tradition. Furtwangler sees the journals as a neglected classic, an American epic, and he explicates their main theme, discovery, in ways that illuminate both past and present.

Ambivalent Churchmen and Evangelical Churchwomen, by Richard Rankin. South Carolina $39. 95

This penetrating analysis of the social elite of ante-bellum North Carolina dispels the often accepted cultural fiction of the wealthy Southern Christian gentleman among Episcopalians. Rankin uses personal correspondence to demonstrate that the resurgence of the Episcopal Church in North Carolina by the male elite can be directly tied to the efforts of the men to control the reforming attitudes coming from the female members of their households. This brilliant and perceptive work enlightens the reader about the true nature of the Southern culture elite from 1800—1860 while showing the interplay of religion, power, gender, and prejudice.

The Censored War: American Visual Experience During World War 11, by George H. Roeder, Jr. Yale $30

In conjunction with his presentation of many never-before-seen photographs from a Pentagon file called the “Chamber of Horrors,” Roeder analyzes how the Roosevelt administration rationed war information as carefully as gasoline or tires. In addition to discussing official censorship, Roeder also examines newsreels, movies, posters, and advertisements to show how they too influenced public opinion. Well-researched and well-written, this is an important book for the general reader as well as the scholar.

LITERARY STUDIES Visions of Presence in Modern American Poetry, by Nathan A.Scott, Jr. Johns Hopkins $34.95

In this, his 17th volume of criticism since 1952 (and first in eight years), Scott confronts and quarrels with deconstruction. Easy as it would be, he makes no attempt to refute the theory on its own terms. Instead, he adduces through close textual and contextual study (of Stevens, Auden, Wilbur, and others) “the sense of “something more”” than signs and slippage, indeed, an “undeniable experience of intimacy with things outside of language—”things as they are.”” In other words, Scott performs his usual service and does so at his customarily high level of insight, learning, and dialectic. Here—for perhaps the last time—is a fine critic whose theory serves to possess as well as share to the full the richness and cohesiveness of poems and poetic oeuvres.

The Female Tradition in Southern Literature, edited by Carol S.Manning. Illinois $34.95

The American South is a special beneficiary of the efflorescence of women’s studies, as stereotypes of women as emptyheaded belles or lusty wenches are finally giving way to more nuanced portrayals. Literature offers fertile ground for this reevaluation, for Southern women of both races have been surprisingly prolific writers from the early 19th century on. There is already a rich literature on Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor, of course, but books such as this one reveal many other authors who are fascinating in their own right. In this interesting collection of essays, authors from Zora Neale Hurston to Zelda Fitzgerald, from Olive Dargan to Caroline Gordon, come in for reconsideration. The book is an outspoken advocate of these neglected women, as well it might be.

Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works, Vol. VII, ed. by Jerome J.McGann. Oxford $75

This volume completes one of the most monumental editorial projects of our time, Jerome McGann’s rethinking and redoing of the entire corpus of Byron’s poetry. As the final volume in the series, only about a quarter of it is devoted to poetry, though it does include one of Byron’s finest lyrics, “On this day I complete my thirty-sixth year,” as well as one of his most interesting narrative poems, “The Island.” Few people realize that, long before Nordoff and Hall, Byron wrote a poetic account of the mutiny on the Bounty, one which is remarkable for the way, with no knowledge of Pitcairn Island, he imagined the mutineers into a Romantic paradise. The bulk of this volume is devoted to various forms of critical apparatus, including a detailed index to all seven volumes of the edition. In several appendices, McGann deals with the issue of the Byron apochrypha, but also adds some recently authenticated poems to the canon. Finally, this edition has come to have a publishing history of its own, and a long section is devoted to corrections and amplifications to the first six volumes. My favorite of these comes on p.170: for DOSE read DOGE.I guess it all depends on whether the poem in question was set in Brooklyn or in Venice.

British Romantic Writers and the East: Anxieties of Empire, by Nigel Leask. Cambridge $54.95

As part of the New Historicist and Cultural Materialist impulses, critics have begun to take a fresh look at British Romanticism by viewing it against the background of 19th-century imperialism, finding Romantic authors implicated in dreams of empire in ways that have hitherto gone unnoticed. Leask offers one of the first systematic treatments of this subject, and he has uncovered a great deal of evidence to support the view that the Romantic imagination was deeply suffused by the issue of empire. Though occasionally Leask pushes his thesis too far—he finds India everywhere in Shelley—he repeatedly calls attention to surprising correla-, tions, such as the fact that Shelley’s friend, Thomas Medwin, was indeed stationed as a British soldier in India. Leask is good at digging up such facts, but unfortunately not quite as good at digesting them. His argument is somewhat disorganized and his scholarship is at times also suspect. He often does not quote from primary sources, and, although he takes Edward Said to task for neglecting the German contribution to orientalism, Leask himself does not appear to have done any of his research in German. But despite such lapses in scholarship, Leask’s book opens up fresh perspectives on such authors as Byron, Shelley, and De Quincey.

Tolstoy’s Art and Thought: 1847—1880, by Donna Tussing Orwin. Princeton $35

This is a thoughtful and illuminating book, surveying Tolstoy’s career as an artist up to his religious turn and concentrating on The Cossacks, War and Peace, and Anna Karenina. Orwin reads Tolstoy carefully and takes seriously the issues around which his novels and indeed all his thought revolve. She analyzes Tolstoy’s ideas in the context of the debates that animated 19th-century Russia, in the writings of authors such as Chernyshevsky. But Orwin’s book is even more valuable for the way she casts her net wider, showing how Tolstoy was constantly reacting to a broader range of European concerns, as expressed by such figures as Rousseau, Goethe, and Schopenhauer. Her treatment of Tolstoy’s relation to Rousseau is particularly insightful. Her study demonstrates the value of taking into account the philosophic content of a novelist’s work. The Tolstoy who emerges from her commentary is a fascinating figure, who plays out the great intellectual issues of his time in narrative form. The highest compliment one can pay Orwin’s book is to say that her analysis does justice to the complexity of her subject.

Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text, by Jenny Sharpe. Minnesota $14.9

How an obsession with rape informed the colonial imagination is the subject of Sharpe’s study. Focusing upon genre fiction of the 19th century and works such as E.M.Forster’s A Passage to India, she demonstrates that the narratives surrounding the 1857 Mutiny in India created a “racial memory” nurtured in and by a number of fictional accounts and popular historical treatments. Sharpe skillfully blends issues of race under colonial systems of rule with feminist theories of gender roles and sexual otherness.

Ethnic Passages: Literary Immigrants in Twentieth-Century America, by Thomas J. Ferraro. Chicago $40 cloth, $15.95 paper

This book makes a valuable contribution to the burgeoning field of ethnic studies in literature. In a series of well-chosen case studies, Ferraro analyzes the interplay between literary and ethnic stereotypes, on the one hand, and the individual experiences and means of self-expression of a variety of authors, on the other. Focusing on five writers—Mario Puzo, Anzia Yezierska, Henry Roth, Henry Miller, and Maxine Hong Kingston—Ferraro’s discussion embraces a wide diversity of ethnic groups, thus allowing him to look for similarities and differences in the American immigrant experience. Ferraro draws upon both literary theory and sociology to enrich his analysis. He also pays careful attention to the broader cultural context of the works he discusses. For example, in his treatment of The Godfather, he relates Puzo’s novel to the films Coppola made from it, as well as the wealth of literature the success of The Godfather spawned, such as Condon’s Prizzi’s Honor. The result, here as elsewhere in the book, is a wide-ranging and illuminating discussion of Ferraro’s topic. As a bonus, the book is clearly written, and mercifully spares us from the unrelenting ideological agendas many works in this field pursue.

Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life, by Bonnie Friedman. HarperCollins $17.95

Anyone who has ever tried to write a story or essay has experienced the dilemmas Bonnie Friedman’s collection of essays addresses. Although the author is a young writer herself, she offers wise advice to those just embarking on this sometimes joyous and often frustrating avocation. The first essay, which was published separately in the New York Times Book Review, confronts with both humor and candor the writer’s chronic, unspoken envy of other writers. This essay, together with the one on “distraction” that follows, are the best in the book. Friedman cleverly describes the fear of writing that leads one to seek out distractions from it as a product that comes from the same source as the desire to write. While this idea might not be a ground-breaking cure for writer’s block, it does provide comfort to the afflicted. Some of Friedman’s themes and anecdotes are not as interesting or engaging as those in the first part of the book, but these subsequent essays may also provide moments of solace to the lonely writer.

Passage to Modernity, by Louis Dupré. Yale $30

This “essay in the hermeneutics of nature and culture” focuses on the problem of modernity from an avowedly theological perspective. Broad in scope, Dupré’s reflections range over the cultural history extending from ancient Greece through the Baroque. In the tradition of Cassiver, the author traces the origins of the modern self, “separated from that totality which once nurtured it,” and he aspires to a new wholeness in an age of disintegration. This is a book that will be eagerly read by philosophers, theologians, and cultural historians.

Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism, by Michael Eric Dyson. Minnesota $19.95

These days it seems as if everybody has an opinion about Spike Lee, Michael Jackson, and Malcolm X, but few critics of black popular culture also have the wherewithal to tackle the fine points of race, gender, and class theory in addition to the rich and complex legacy of black religion. Michael Eric Dyson, who won the 1992 National Magazine Award for Black Journalists and who is an assistant professor at Brown University, has something important to say about all of these topics in Reflecting Black, a collection of articles that have previously appeared in such publications as The Nation, the New York Times, and Tikkun. Like Cornel West, Dyson is a rare breed, the public intellectual, and his essays attempt what he calls “an oppositional African-American cultural criticism,” one which “promotes the preservation of black culture’s best features, the amelioration of its weakest parts, and the eradication of its worst traits.” Whether writing on “Michael Jordan and the Pedagogy of Desire” or “Leonard Jeffries and the Struggle for the Black Mind,” Dyson is certain to become a forceful presence in African-American criticism, and Reflecting Black is an excellent introduction to his work.

LIVES & LETTERS The Letters of Ezra Pound to Alice Corbin Henderson, edited by Ira B.Nadel. Texas $34.95

The early distinction of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse was due less to Editor Harriet Monroe, whose taste was far from modernist, than to these correspondents, respectively the foreign and the associate editor. As their letters show, Pound and Corbin strove mightily and often in concert to publish the most advanced practitioners and to make a case in the review pages for the new “code” of composition. Readers of the poet’s copious mail will find everything they are looking for: verbal humor, exuberant erudition, gossip, summary judgments, and pedagogy “by the pound,” as well as breath-taking contradictions—e.g., his campaign to translate and subsidize a pair of colleagues writing exclusively in Yiddish!

Fidel Castro, by Robert E. Quirk. Norton $35

This author wears several hats: (1) Indiana University Emeritus Professor of History, (2) Latin American scholar and acknowledged authority in the field, and (3) recipient of several prize-winning awards for his published literary works. He has now written what may well become the definitive biography of Fidel Castro—that bearded, enigmatic, pistol-toting dictator who has successfully survived the efforts of nine American presidents to unseat him. With the demise of the Soviet Union and its bedrock of communism, the downfall of Castro is only a matter of time. But this book should be read by the lay public everywhere so that they may learn how to protect themselves from the rise of any local charismatic ruler who would seek to enslave them in the denial of all of their human rights.

The Correspondence of Henry and Sarah Fielding, edited by Martin C.Battestin and Clyde T.Probyn. Clarendon Press $55

Though this volume increases our understanding of Fielding the author, it goes even farther to reveal Fielding the man. Collected in a single volume is virtually all of the known correspondence of Henry and Sarah. Included is the recently discovered cache of letters found in the family letters of the Earl of Malmesbury. Also included is the correspondence between Henry and his patron, the fourth Duke of Bedford. And Battestin and Probyn provide an impeccable textual apparatus that is both unobtrusive and informative. In short, they have created the definitive collection to which all future 18th-century scholars will refer.

Spoken in Darkness, by Ann E. Imbrie. Hyperion $19.95

Unlike most “true-crime” fiction, Spoken in Darkness chronicles the life of a murderer’s victim. Lee Snavely, eventually brutally murdered by a sociopathic misogynist, was an intelligent, upper-middle-class small-town child who grew up to be a drug addict, a prostitute, a prisoner, and a wife. Ann Imbrie investigates the facts of her childhood friend Lee’s troubled life and subtly compares these facts to those that shaped her own life. The purpose of this approach is not to offer an explanation for the senseless murder, or an excuse for Lee’s inability to conquer an addiction to drug use and crime. Rather, Imbrie presents the life of Lee, the life of Lee’s murderer, and her own life in a way that encourages us to search within ourselves for answers to the disturbing questions this book raises. The chief flaw of this gripping and well-written narrative is one Imbrie obviously strove to avoid. Both revolting and fascinating, the sections of the book that tell the murder’s story make the villain overshadow his troubled victim.

Sorrow Is the Only Faithful One: The Life of Owen Dobson, by James V.Hatch. Illinois $34.95

Drawing upon extensive interviews with Dobson, his family, and his friends, Hatch—senior professor of English at City College in New York—examines the life and work of this little-known black gay writer. Though arthritic and an alcoholic when he died (1983), Dobson nobly attempted to transcend race and class in his plays, poetry, and novel (Boy At the Window) by giving universal significance to the deprivations and insecurities of blacks during both the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Nationalist Movement. A commendable study.

Francisco Bouligny, by Gilbert C. Din. Louisiana $45

The biography of Francisco Bouligny contributes to the field of Spanish history in what became the United States. Bouligny was a significant individual in the life of Spanish Louisiana from its acquisition by Spain at the end of the Seven Years War until the agreement by Spain to return the territory to France in 1800.He served in various military and government posts and is considered the architect of Spanish policy in Louisiana through a “Memorial” he had written during his one return trip to Spain from the New World. The biography, which borders on hagiography at points, reflects the fruits of a lifetime of work by the author. The work is well documented and serves as an adequate overview of Spanish affairs in this period in Louisiana’s history.

Reflections on James Joyce: Stuart Gilbert’s Paris Journal, edited by Thomas F. Staley and Randolph Lewis. Texas $24.95

No major “new facts,” here, but in the end something more delectable and possibly useful: a really new perspective on Joyce’s actions and passions, his family imbroglios, and the Left Bank literary life in general. Gilbert experienced things not as a young Turk author, but an ex-judge whose love of learning and modern literature brought him relatively late in life to Paris.(There he pursued a new career, writing a great study of Ulysses and putting various modern French authors into sterling English.) Gilbert’s anecdotes, reactions, and pens6es reflect not only earned world-weariness, deep culture, and middle-class values (British variant), but irrepressible enthusiasm for the written word and unremitting skepticism (verging on bile) toward the people and institutions through which it lives.

Perfume from Provence, by Lady Winifred Fortescue. Morrow $16

This memoir is an account of the years during which Fortescue and her husband renovated an old house in Provence. For most of Europe and America the 1930’s were bleak, but the Fortescues were fortunate enough to be able to escape England for France. The small French village in which they settle no doubt had economic troubles of its own, but Fortescue focuses primarily on the light side of life in Provence. She implicitly acknowledges that her class position and nationality distance her in sometimes uncomfortable ways from the local people who build her roof and tend her garden. Written in unadorned prose, her stories of her relationships with these townspeople are engaging and evoke a wonderful sense of the rhythm of daily life in Provence.

An Evening When Alone: Four Journals of Single Women in the South, 1827—67, edited by Michael O’Brien. Virginia $35

An Evening When Alone is the first volume to come from the Southern Texts Society. The volume perfectly exemplifies the society’s mission to publish manuscripts and rare printed materials that are important to understanding the culture of the American South. The journals of four single women comprise the collection and provide a fascinating foray into the different worlds of the single woman in the antebellum South. The first, Elizabeth Ruffin of Virginia, was a daughter of “middling rural gentry.” Her two diaries reveal the life of a lonely, yet intelligent young lady who possessed a keen self-awareness. Jane Caroline North of South Carolina, as seen through her travel journals, relished her role as a belle and played the part to perfection. Another set of diaries chronicle the life of an unknown governess on a plantation in Mississippi who was very aware of growing old and dwelt upon her sadness. Finally, there is Ann Lewis Hardeman who had no children or husband of her own, but grew old while caring for her sister’s children in Mississippi. The study of antebellum Southern women has previously concentrated upon married plantation mistresses, even though single women made up almost half of the adult female population. Michael O’Brien’s An Evening When Alone makes an important contribution to the study of Southern women.

Up at Oxford, by Ved Mehta. Norton $25

The author has written beautifully and evocatively of Oxford before, and in this, his latest volume of memoirs, he is up to his characteristically high standards. His “portraits” of people whom he has known are almost uncannily vivid, and his account of the sad fate of some of his peers who were so promising is both deeply moving and disturbing. A must book for Mehta fans and those interested in life at Oxford.

Life Work, by Donald Hall. Beacon Press $15

What do writers do? How do they do it? Drawing on his own experience as poet, essayist, critic, and successful freelancer, Hall gives us revealing glimpses of one writer’s daily routine. Yet this is much more than another book on the writing life. Hall also remembers and contemplates the lives—and work—of all sorts of people (especially moving are the portraits of his parents and grandparents). This is a book, finally, about the metaphysics of work, which Hall sees in Christian terms: “Work is not redemptive—God’s work—but it is or it can be devoted.” Here is a work which will amply repay two hours’ devotion from any reader.

Benjamin Britten: A Biography, by Humphrey Carpenter. Scribner’s $30

This century has been a particularly rich one for British music, and no composer graced it with more technical sophistication, elegance, wit, and originality than did Benjamin Britten. Not only was his orchestral, ensemble, solo, and choral music of extraordinary beauty and subtlety, but his oratorios and pageants broke new ground; and more important still were his operas, the finest, perhaps, of this century. Carpenter’s biography is quite deftly written and researched, dealing not only with Britten’s music, but his pacifism, his distaste for the musical establishment, his homosexuality, and his difficult personality. Carpenter’s account of the influence of tenor Peter Pears (Britten’s lover of many years) over Britten’s later musical development may fail to convince some readers, but on the whole this biography has no rival.

The Letters of Charles Dickens, vol. 7: 1853—1855, edited by Graham Storey, Kathleen Tillotson, and Angus Easson. Oxford $128

This, the most recent volume of the altogether admirable Pilgrim Edition of Dickens’ correspondence, is as fine as its predecessors: handsomely bound and printed, expertly edited, generously capacious, and scaffolded with impeccable critical apparatus. In addition, it covers a span when Dickens was writing perhaps his two finest works, Bleak House and Little Dorrit. Dickens’ prolific epistolary corpus rivals his novels for size, and the range of his correspondents is fascinating. This is a necessary volume for those discerning souls who recognize Dickens for what he was: the greatest novelist in the English language.

Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Life, by Andrew Motion. Farrar Straus & Giroux $35

Andrew Motion’s biography of English poet Philip Larkin is deft, meticulous, and well-written. Motion manages to somehow be both sympathetic and objective when discussing Larkin’s tangled relations with his father, mother, and several lovers. He gets down all the facts of Larkin’s life as a student and librarian, and he does a remarkable job presenting the interior struggles that made Larkin such a contradictory person. With Motion as guide, one can see how the ironic, cynical poems that made Larkin famous could have come from the private man who spent the majority of his life outside the literary circles of London. Still, while Motion puts Larkin’s flaws—a self-absorption that denied him any fulfilling love relationships, a provincialism that led him to near-racism—into a believable context, Larkin’s poems still shine with an energy that transcends the everyday life any biographer must ground his work in. Ultimately, Philip Larkin was an unhappy man who wrote a small number of short, yet brilliant poems. That this biography runs to more than 500 pages while Larkin’s Collected Poems barely reaches 300 pages seems unfortunate. Philip Larkin is dead; long live his poems.

FICTION Scissors, Paper, Rock, by Fenton Johnson. Pocket Books $20

This somber second novel by Fenton Johnson rapidly draws the reader into the lives of the Hardins, a rural Kentucky family whose members are struggling to transcend their own histories. In the first chapter, set in 1990, the reader squirms through the awkward silences that mark Tom Hardin’s interactions with his prodigal son, Raphael. Both men are dying (father of cancer, son of AIDS), but neither can find the words to bridge the lacuna that threatens to yawn eternally between them. Subsequent chapters-cum-vignettes, which offer flash-backs and -forwards, reveal the sordid secrets that motivated this dynamic between the two Hardin men and, ultimately, cannot be overcome by either of them. Despite the aura of sadness that envelops this novel, Johnson’s writing is eloquent, his storytelling compelling. This is a brilliant novel that offers important commentary on our romantic ideals about the meaning of “family” and the gritty reality that inevitably confronts us all.

The Collected Stories, by Reynolds Price. Atheneum $25

The significant majority of these 39 stories are quiet, thoughtful first-person narratives which probe without flinching those things which hurt, and matter, the most: loss, desire, family, death. The setting is the modern South, more remembered than imagined, caught by Price’s near-perfect ear for voices. Some of the stories which stray from this model are more immediately striking: the eerie, utterly successful surrealism of “The Enormous Door”; the lovely, troubling vision of “This Wait.” But it is the voice that animates such stories as “The Names and Faces of Heroes,” an adult remembering a defining moment of his childhood, the realization of his father’s mortality, which gives this collection its great depth and resonance. Highly recommended.

Virgins of Paradise, by Barbara Wood. Times Books $22

In novel fashion, an American authoress describes the turmoil in a prominent Arab family when its two educated professional daughters rebel against the mythology and magic of their exotic and erotic culture from an ancient civilization that has suppressed and denigrated women for thousands of years, as Egypt slowly emerges into the modern era. Spicy, sensuous, and spellbinding.

To the White Sea, by James Dickey. Houghton $22.95

It’s 1945, and Muldrow—an American flyer who was raised in Alaska’s Brooks Range—goes down during a fire-bombing of Tokyo. Once aground, he embarks on a journey of survival and revelation. The opeing sections on the city and the bombing are riveting and pitch-perfect. The pace slows a bit—but not unduly so—when Muldrow befriends a Zen Monk who betrays him by turning him over to the Japanese. Then the novel picks up again when the mangled Muldrow escapes from the soldiers’ gruesome torture and reaches his cherished snow country—the northern island of Hokkaido. Dickey, author of Deliverance, has given us yet another dazzling work of fiction.

Behind Eclaire’s Doors, by Sophie Dunbar. St. Martin’s $17.95

This book is billed as a debut mystery by its publisher, but its light, teasing sexual tone makes it more akin to steamy Old South romances than any mean streets tale. The heroine, Claire Claiborne, is the owner of an exclusive New Orleans hair salon whose ex-husband (for whom she still quivers) is suspected of murdering her manicurist. A suitable cast of Southern caricatures provide background for this “wild and zany plot,” but even more annoying than the humid and cloying atmosphere, is the smug labeling of every article of food and drink that touches Claire’s life. She’s a poster child for the insufferable 1980’s.

The Hard to Catch Mercy, by William Baldwin. Algonquin $19.95

With The Hard to Catch Mercy, William Baldwin offers a first novel that provokes inevitable comparisons to such renowned storytellers as Twain, Faulkner, and Garcia Marquez. Like these authors, Baldwin writes with a rich sense of time and place and a wide variety of unbelievable and bizarre characters. With a story that shifts quickly from hilarious to touching, from terrifying to unreal, he invokes anew the unique struggles of the American South. Set in a small town in coastal South Carolina in 1916, the novel recounts the adventures of 14-year-old Willie T.Allson, the son and grandson of Confederate heroes, from the day that the family cows, Ruth and Naomi, became stuck in the mud. As he relates the long struggle to recover these cows, Baldwin fills his mythical Cedar Point and its environs with an amazing cast made up of both the stock characters of any novel of the post-bellum South and such imaginative originals as The Hard to Catch Mercy (a retriever of hard-to-catch animals and men). The story of the Allson family twists and turns across richly narrated scenes of the believable, the barely believable, and the unbelievable.

Shadows, by Osvaldo Soriano. Knopf $21

Soriano’s novel—his third to be translated into English—follows its wandering protagonist on a circular picaresque journey through rural Argentina. Colorful, odd characters appear along the way, making bets, making love, making trouble, and waiting for better days. The author describes a world in chaos, a world with few rules, at least few rules that anyone understands very well. But the characters become trapped in their quest (is this the point of the novel?) and in a story that goes nowhere; their eccentricities become irritating very quickly.Shadows reminds us of Waiting for Godot, but in this case you’ll wish you hadn’t waited.

Mischief, by Ed McBain. Morrow $20

How many 87th precinct novels has McBain written? He seems to churn them out every six months or so, and it would seem that they’d lose a little zip, becoming no more than a tired old formula. But they don’t. In fact, his latest seems fresher, tighter, and more full of life than books written years ago. Part of the reason is that new things are always happening to that old cast of characters; part, too, is that people are always thinking up new ways to circumvent the law. Here we find someone is abandoning Alzheimer patients in deserted parts of the city. Someone else is becoming a hero by murdering graffiti “artists.” And to really complicate matters, the precinct’s nemesis, the Deaf Man, makes another appearance. McBain writes the best police procedurals in the business. As they say in Milwaukee, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Strip Tease, by Carl Hiaasen. Knopf $21

You’ve got to love a story in which the heroes are a nude dancer trying to regain custody of her daughter, a laconic Cuban-American police detective who is interested in the concept of justice, and a cueballed, megahunk bar bouncer who reads Camus. The villains are a U.S.congressman whose morals rank slightly above toxic waste sludge and his “fixer,” who can usually bail politicians out of trouble with a phone call or two. Welcome to South Florida and Hiassen country. The author has been poking the air out of the silly and pompous ever since the publication of Tourist Season some years ago. His sometimes ludicrous tales have a serious moral edge that doesn’t get lost in the wickedly funny stabs at the greedheads and power brokers selling off Florida piece by piece. Hiaasen is a Jonathan Swift for the American 90’s.

The Very Air, by Douglas Bauer. Morrow $20

Those who wish to understand the vicious virtuosity of modern American political, religious, and commercial fly-by-night con men might well read this hilarious account of a grubby Southwest snake oil salesman who evolves into a medical version of Elmer Gantry only to become victimized by his own mendacity. Great fun with a lusty background of Texas folklore.

Kipper’s Game, by Barbara Ehrenreich. Farrar Straus & Giroux $22

Barbara Ehrenreich, a superb essayist, starts her first novel well with portentous clouds and plagues of caterpillars juxtaposed with domestic disaster. Unfortunately, the domestic disaster fizzles out, and while Ehrenreich piles on the colorful portents, they fizzle out as well, never really leading anywhere. Ehrenreich tries in this first novel to fit her critique of society and her examination of the human search for knowledge into the form of a thriller; unfortunately, she seems overwhelmed by her convoluted plot. Interesting set pieces fail to connect and build because the connecting threads of plot and character are simply not compelling enough to bear their weight. In the end, the novel proves to be all mood with no payoff.

Little Kingdoms, by Steven Millhauser. Poseidon Press $21

These three novellas, by the author of Edwin Mullhouse (the imagined biography of a writer, dead at ten; a Pnin of preadolescence), display the earlier book’s same dazzling ability to imagine into detailed and affecting existence the creations of other artists. The first novella details the hermetic career of Franklin Payne, a 1920’s newspaper cartoonist who becomes a gifted animator estranged from the world outside his workroom. Millhauser’s richly imagined descriptions of Payne’s work process and the resulting cartoons are balanced with the moving and pathetic withdrawal of their creator. A less successful tale of the psychic cost of artistic integrity is the closing novella, a faux exhibition catalogue describing paintings by another remote and idiosyncratic genius, one Edmund Moorash. The prose here, all too convincingly academic, is harnessed to a rather lurid and rigidly symmetric tale of ill-fated love. These two tales bookend “The Princess, the Dwarf, and the Dungeon” —a Grimm tale reminiscent at once of the aloof play of Borges and of the elliptical rage of Browning’s “My Last Duchess.” Like its companions, this tale of a jealous husband is tribute to the alluring and potentially destructive power of the imagination.

Sweet William: A Memoir of Old Horse, by John Hawkes. Simon & Schuster $20

This novel by one of the most accomplished contemporary American writers is a clever conceit; it consists of the recollections of an aged horse, vividly recounting a number of salient episodes of his existence. The book reflects both its author’s great familiarity with the equine world (he reveals many unpleasant and disturbing aspects of its exploitation and management by humans) and his narrative skill and stylistic virtuosity.

The Hand of the Arch-Sinner: Two Angrian Chronicles of Branwell Bronte, ed. by Robert G. Collins. Oxford $45

A book by Branwell Bronte? In fact two-books-in-one by Branwell Bronte! One might at first think this volume is a literary fantasia, like the recent embarassingly bad novelistic attempt to fill in the missing years of Heathcliff’s life. But this is the real thing: carefully edited transcripts of the juvenile writings of the ill-fated brother of the famous Bronte sisters. Anyone interested in 19th-century British fiction will find this book fascinating. It fills in the most important missing link in any attempt to understand how such masterpieces as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre grew out of the fantasy world of the Bronte children. It is particularly interesting to see how steeped the imagination of the young Branwell Bronte was in the imperialist dreams of his age; living in the north of England, the Bronte children were setting their fables in the midst of Africa! One word of caution: do not expect polished writing from this teenager, however precocious he may have been. In fact, at times the prose in these narratives reads like the parodies of sentimental fiction that the even more precocious 15-year-old Jane Austen wrote. That is, if I am right that Branwell was not being ironic when he wrote sentences like: “That night, as Lady Zenobia Elrington was resting alone in her splendid saloon, deeply engaged in the discussion of Seneca’s Epistles in the original, the door opened, and her husband entered the room.”

NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape, by James Howard Kunstler. Simon & Schuster $23

The Geography of Nowhere is a relentlessly caustic indictment of America’s built landscape. From our early national days, ‘democracy, commercialism, and hurry produced a shabby and artificial-looking landscape. Unfortunately, the reaction to the shape of American development—especially an anti-democratic flight from the public realm—produced even worse consequences. Kunstler’s book is full of villains; these include the suburbs of F.L. Olmsted, Henry Ford and the arch-villain automobile, Walt Disney, and strip architecture and malls. Case studies of cities and towns, including Kunstler’s personal anecdotes, buttress the gloomy conclusions. To a much lesser extent Kunstler suggests regeneration of the landscape in a return to civics and community connectedness. Portland, Oregon stands out as a possible example of a hospitably habitable place. With his book’s nonacademic lively writing style, Kunstler makes an argument that might shame some of us into an awareness of building a vibrant civic environment.

Queer in America, by Michelangelo Signorile. Random House $23 cloth

Here’s the situation: There are many queers in top level positions in the Media, in the Congress, and in Hollywood. The trouble is, that these people, who could really make a difference in fighting HOMOPHOBIA don’t, and their choice to stay in the closet helps to perpetuate hypocrisy and secrecy. Consequently, lies are printed about homosexuals, approved by gay editors, gay and lesbian actors are presented to the public as heterosexual by their gay publicists and agents, and gay congresspersons continually vote against gay rights legislation. Signorile’s book is investigative journalism and powerful gay rights activism. His stance on “outing” is that if one’s sexual orientation is important to the issue, then it needs to be known. One example he gives is David Geffen’s record label carrying the homophobic (and racist) routines of Andrew Dice Clay.(Geffen denied that he was gay for a long time, though now he is out, and gives much money to AIDS research.) This book confronts homophobes, it confronts gay people still in their closets, and it rattles journalism’s chains as well. Journalists print the truth, in theory, but only what those in actual control of the information will allow. Somebody or something keeps the hands of gay newspaper editors tied. Signorile calls for the individual to come out of the closet and be heard. It’s about time.

For God, Country and Coca-Cola: The Unauthorized History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company That Makes It, by Mark Pendergrast. Scribner’s $27.50

This broad and detailed study traces the evolution of Coca-Cola, from its inception as a patent medicine in the late 19th century through the Pepsi Wars and “New Coke” fiasco of the mid-1980s’. It is a fascinating journey. Pendergrast pays close attention to the men who ran Coca-Cola, the company’s frequent battles with its bottlers, the trials and tribulations of overseas expansion (Communists vociferously denounced the “Coca-Colonization” of the world), and advertising strategies, the key to the company’s success. But this is far more than a corporate history for it offers readers a marvelous depiction of the transformation of American culture during “The American Century.” As a final postscript, Pendergrast reveals what he believes to be Coke’s sacred formula, surely one of the world’s best kept secrets, which he stumbled across during his archival research. But as one Coke executive pointed out, whether Pendergrast’s recipe is accurate or not makes little difference. Duplication of the formula would offer would-be competitors little when forced to compete against Coca-Cola’s enormous economies of scale in production, distribution, and marketing, and the one-hundred years and billions of dollars spent building up the equity of the Coca-Cola brand name. It is this process which Pendergrast so intriguingly explores.

Talk, by Susan Stamburgh. Random House $24

For almost 15 years—from 1971 to 1986—Susan Stamburgh was the cohost of National Public Radio’s drive-time news and public affairs program, “All Things Considered.” Her work during that time consisted of thousands of interviews, a prodigious outpouring of words, stories and over-the-air images. The nature of radio at its best is effervescence, the momentary sparkle of sounds carried by language that instantly evaporates. But rather than allow so many fascinating moments to simply disappear, Stamburgh’s colleagues bottled the magic of her work, and printed out the corpus of her on-air chats as a going-away gift. This book is the result of that gift, pared down to the finest passages, surveying the coming-of-age years of the Baby Boom Generation. The news, the personalities, the events; in sum the book provides us, as Stamburgh suggests, a “sound track for our times.”

The Penguin Book of Twentieth-Century Speeches, edited by Brian MacArthur. Viking $35

In this collection of alleged best world speeches of the 20th century, the editor seems to have overlooked the fact that we have six more years to go until the arrival of the 21st century. And, how can he possibly include four by Lyndon Johnson, eight by the Kennedys (John, Bobby, and Ted), and yet omit great ones such as the prophetic remarks of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Sellassie to the League of Nations in Geneva that the organization would die and World War II would start if the League did not take action against the Italians who had invaded his country? Or the plea for peace by the Dalai Lama and the lament for love by Mother Teresa when they received the Nobel Prize awards? And since we all know that most politicians do not write their own speeches, it is a shame that the ghost writers were not given any credit. Ah well, we all know that all work and no plagiarism makes for a dull speech.

Trust Me: Charles Keating and the Missing Billions, by Michael Binstein and Charles Bowden. Random House $25

Two journalists whose professional attention became focused on the personality and the activities of one of the most colorful protagonists of the S&L debacle, Charles Keating, at a relatively early stage, provide a detailed account of his exploits, and a lively picture of his style and modus operand!. Their chosen focus excludes a sustained consideration of the broader story and raises the question, whether Keating was that much worse a scoundrel than other characters in the story, or simply had the bad luck to attract more than his share of media and judicial attention.

The Anatomy of Thatcherism, by Shirley Robin Letwin. Transaction Books $32.95

In The Anatomy of Thatcherism, the late Shirley Robin Letwin offers the first serious analysis of the ideology to which Margaret Thatcher gave her name. Mrs. Letwin’s rather original analysis of “Thatcherism” is that it was, first and foremost, a moral philosophy, predicated on an individualist conception of the good life and on the practice of what Mrs. Letwin calls “the vigorous virtues.” Mrs. Letwin argues her case with appropriate vigor and considerable learning. If, in the end, this very stimulating and insightful volume is less than convincing, it may be less the fault of Mrs. Letwin than that of Mrs. Thatcher, and her apparent


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