by Pheobe-Lou Adams
Bruce Chatwin, best known as a superb travel writer, on occasion wrote book reviews, essays, stories, and articles. Those collected here reveal a quirky wit, an inclination to beat sacred cows, and a stupefying range of information. A piece called "The Morality of Things" jumps from Jeremiah to chimpanzees and proceeds through Freud, the Grail Quest, Proust, museum collections, fetishism, Marx, animal behaviorists, and the sexing of things, although "one cannot with certainty predict the sex of, say, the sun. . . . For the Rwala Bedouin of Arabia the sun is a mean and destructive old hag, who forces the handsome moon to sleep with her once a month, and so exhausts him that he needs another month to recover."
If they were white, instead of a mixture of Mexican and African-American, Ms. Straight's characters would be a family of industrious bourgeois trying to hold their own against urban developers and historical preservationists. This is not intended as a derogatory judgment. The underlying point of Ms. Straight's intricately plotted, exciting, infuriating novel is the degree of efficiency and energy lost to society when people like the Thompsons are mistrusted by the police and abused by the law. It is a painful story, violent, ultimately sinister, and most expertly written.
Mr. Collignon's novel interweaves intriguing ideas on the relation between art and religion and between family history and family solidarity, doing this obliquely through a story in which half the characters are charming, amiably meddlesome ghosts. This is a distinctive and appealing first novel.
the Little Bighorn
William Taylor enlisted in the Army in 1872, at the age of seventeen. He wound up in the 7th Cavalry, under George A. Custer, and survived the Little Bighorn because he was among the troops commanded by Marcus Reno at that disastrous battle. He was discharged from the Army in 1877, for failing health, and during the rest of his life collected information about Custer's defeat and wrote his own account of the episode. His notes and manuscript, bounced from hand to hand, have finally surfaced for publication. Taylor was observant at the time, did sound research later, and wrote well. About the Sioux he reflected, "They seemed to us, in all their hideousness of paint and feathers, and wild fierce cries, like fiends incarnate, but were they?"--for he was well aware of the broken treaties that provoked the Indian militance. No one who values American history should overlook Taylor's contribution.
Mackintosh (1868-1928) was and remains the most notable figure of what was known at the turn of the century as the Glasgow School--architect, decorator, graphic artist, painter, and furniture designer. He created chairs with extravagantly high backs that were useless for fending off drafts, and these elegantly inconsistent objects can be seen as a summary of his style--a combination of the attenuated and the opulent, the grimly austere and the lushly romantic. The various essays in this splendidly illustrated study of his work cover its relation to the character of Glasgow, its somewhat tenuous connections to other aesthetic developments of the period, and the contributions of Mackintosh's wife and associates to the energetic artistic activity of their city. Mackintosh was remarkable for more than original vision: The Hill House, with a façade as grim as a broch and an interior full of fairy-castle glitter, came in under budget.