S E P T E M B E R 1 9 9 6
by Phoebe-Lou Adams
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Browse an anthology of Brief Reviews by Pheobe-Lou Adams
Anatomy of Restlessness
by Bruce Chatwin.
Viking, 256 pages, $23.95.
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."
The Gettin Place
by Susan Straight.
Hyperion, 488 pages, $22.95.
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.
The Journal of
by Rick Collignon.
MacMurray & Beck,
217 pages, $17.00.
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
With Custer on
the Little Bighorn
by William O. Taylor.
Viking, 208 pages, $27.95.
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.
edited by Wendy Kaplan.
Abbeville, 383 pages,
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.
The Blue Rider
by Annette and Luc Vezin.
Terrail, distributed by Stewart,
Tabori & Chang, 224 pages, $24.95.
The authors begin the history of The Blue Rider in 1911, when
Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc resigned from the New Association of Munich
Artists, an organization of innovative artists founded only two years earlier
under Kandinsky's leadership. The dissidents' next project was the publication
of The Blue Rider, designed to be a journal on the arts "with
contributions written exclusively by artists" and inspired by "a shared faith
in a spiritual renewal of our civilisation." The editorial staff consisted of
Kandinsky and Marc. The contributors ranged from the distinguished to the
obscure. The illustrations juxtaposed advanced contemporary work and antique
folk art. The financing was annoying--at least to the editors--and the
politicking over contributors was intricate. The eventual publication was a
striking success and appeared to justify Kandinsky's idealistic anticipation of
an art that would override nationality and frontiers and reach "simply
humanity." Then came the First World War, and the first Blue Rider
remained the last. The authors have done admirably in describing the associates
of Kandinsky and Marc, the large number of people involved in the enterprise,
and the alliances and hostilities that agitated the contentious art world of
the time. The book ably re-creates a herd of highly interesting mavericks. It
also has excellent illustrations.
Not Much Fun:
The Lost Poems of
by Albert J. Guerard.
Baskerville, 340 pages, $23.00.
Mr. Silverstein's introduction provides as much as one needs to know
about Parker, and does it briskly and capably. (The inevitable Parker anecdotes
and quotations are wisely confined to footnotes, where they do not create
direct competition.) As to the "lost" poems, they are those, mostly early, that
Parker did not see fit to include in any collection--probably because they
frequently foreshadow more-polished later versions of the same tartly
irreverent notions. Parker herself once described her verse (she rejected the
status of poet) as "horribly dated--as anything once fashionable is dreadful
now." These poems (oops -- verses) are very far from dreadful. If many arouse a
sense of déjà vu, some retain their original snap.
Already he is hailed as great
By cultural minorities,
For all his works have been, to date,
Suppressed by the authorities.
Our literati have confessed
Nothing succeeds like the suppressed.
Recent books by Atlantic authors:
Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the
Desert, by William Langewiesche.
Pantheon, 352 pages, $24.00. Langewiesche is an Atlantic
contributing editor. This book grew out of his November, 1991, cover story,
"The World in Its Extreme." (For more on William Langewiesche's travels in the
Sahara, see our current feature The Desert
The Price of a Dream: The Story of the Grameen
Bank and the Idea That Is Helping the Poor to Change Their Lives,by David Bornstein. Simon
&Schuster, 370 pages, $25.00. David Bornstein's article "The Barefoot
Bank With Cheek," about the Grameen Bank, was published in the December, 1995,
Mona in the Promised Land, by Gish Jen. Knopf, 304 pages, $24.00. A
portion of this novel first appeared as the short story "What Means Switch" in
the May, 1990, Atlantic.
The Bride Wore Red,by Robbie Clipper Sethi. Bridge Works, 216 pages,
$19.95. "Grace," a story in this collection, first appeared in the August,
Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights
The Atlantic Monthly; September 1996; Brief Reviews; Volume 278, No. 3;