J U N E 1 9 9 5
by Phoebe-Lou Adams
A Dead Man in Deptford
by Anthony Burgess.
Carroll & Graf, 272 pages, $21.00.
For his novel about Christopher Marlowe, the late Anthony
Burgess contrived a brilliantly effective prose style, a combination of Elizabethan and modern
English in which the modern never weakens the impression of a past time and the
Elizabethan never becomes distractingly archaic. The period details, including
a sickening execution and a blood-chilling interrogation, are equally well
done, while the ideas discussed, the manner of argument, the clothes, the
food--everything, in fact, down to muddy roads and filthy floors, rings true.
The characters carry similarly three-dimensional conviction--with one
surprising exception. The reader meets Marlowe the poet, catching lines from
nowhere; Marlowe the homosexual, applauding boys and tobacco; Marlowe the
skeptical inquirer, enjoying speculation with the free-thinking intellectuals
of Walter Raleigh's circle; and Marlowe the Cambridge-trained playwright,
defending the propriety of deploying arcane learning on the stage. One never
really meets Marlowe the spy and suspected coiner of false money, whose old
associates saw fit to kill him on a May evening in the port of Deptford. The
impression throughout the novel is that Marlowe never altogether understands
either the methods or the dangers of espionage. Perhaps that is precisely what
Burgess intended--a demonstration that spying is no trade for a poet.
The Case of the Frozen Addicts
by J. William Langston, M.D., and Jon Palfreman.
Pantheon, 320 pages, $25.00.
Dr. Langston, a neurologist, was at work at the Santa Clara
Valley Medical Center in 1982 when he encountered an inexplicable patient. The man was
motionless, like a victim of Parkinson's disease, but he was improbably young
for Parkinson's, and the attack had other unreasonable aspects. With some luck
and some help from the medical bush telegraph, Dr. Langston discovered five
similar cases, all people who had taken one of the "designer drugs" available
to addicts. The doctor succeeded in thawing them out, but their troubles were
not over and his had merely begun. The account of the affair and its
consequences, written in the third person for good reasons, is much more than a
medical detective story. It expands into professional rivalries and alliances,
government finance for research and government obstruction of the same, ethical
debates, overlooked data, and overpriced drugs. After word got out that a
chemical known as MPTP might be useful in research on Parkinson's, the price of
that previously trivial substance rose in two years from $11.00 for five grams
to $9,500.00. In addition to enjoying what amounts to a lively
interprofessional melodrama, the reader learns a great deal about Parkinson's
disease, the extremely delicate work required to study and treat it, and the
unexpected side issues of research --such as how to house a bonanza of monkeys.
This medical narrative is as absorbing a tale as one could ask for.
text and pictures by Bill Mauldin.
Norton, 240 pages, $19.95.
In the fiftieth-anniversary edition of this classic of the
Second World War, Willie and Joe, those magnificently scruffy citizen soldiers, are as mordantly
unheroic as ever: "Just gimme a coupla aspirin. I already got a Purple Heart."
Mr. Mauldin's text is a reminder of how forthright that war seemed in its
time--a simple matter of beating the krauts.
Last Dance at the Hotel Kempinski
by Robin Hirsch.
University Press of New England, 320 pages, $24.95.
Mr. Hirsch's middle-aged parents escaped from Hitler's
Reich with little time to spare and settled in London, where they had two children. Their
relatives--those who survived--scattered from Shanghai to Israel. Mr. Hirsch's
account of growing up and making his way as an isolated exile is sometimes
pitifully sad and sometimes very funny, but always based on his desire to
preserve human connections. The connections are varied. His father is almost
too dreadful for belief, or would be if he were less vividly reported. His
mother's first husband--"The man who danced with Marlene Dietrich"--is a
generous, affectionate charmer and possibly a bit of a con man. Between these
extremes lies a gallery of interesting people who survived disaster and hang
together despite time and distance. Mr. Hirsch's memoir is a warm-hearted
tribute to all of them and easily warms a reader's heart.
Hidden Treasures Revealed
by Albert Kostenevich.
Abrams, 292 pages, $49.50.
Mr. Kostenevich is the curator of modern European painting
at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, where works of art sequestered since the
Second World War are gradually being revealed. This book covers an exhibition
of French paintings, largely Impressionist, dating from 1828 to 1927. "Of the
seventy-four works, only two have ever been published in color before, while a
large number of them have never been published at all." Mr. Kostenevich's
introduction explains the hurried wartime circumstances under which the
paintings were whisked out of Germany, the difficulties of identifying and
authenticating individual works, and the long delay in revealing their presence
in Russia. It is a sensible, understated report of the practical, emotional,
and political considerations that determined the disposition of the paintings.
The paintings themselves are a splendid display, and they are accompanied by
texts on their history and sometimes details illustrating brushwork. The book
will enchant any lover of Impressionist art.
A River Town
by Thomas Keneally.
Doubleday/Nan A. Talese, 324 pages, $24.00.
Mr. Keneally's latest novel begins in a small town in southeastern Australia
with Tim Shea, a not very prosperous shopkeeper from Ireland, relaxing under
his backyard pepper tree to read two newspapers, have a small drink to himself,
and waste no sympathy on England's predicament with the Boers. It is the last
quiet moment in the book, for Mr. Keneally is a master of ingenious incident
and intriguing chicanery. Tim, poor fellow, has a terrible time with bigotry
and bad luck. The reader is offered a fine time with constant action based on
an intelligent sociological view.
Copyright © 1995 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.