by Phoebe-Lou Adams
Angel in the Whirlwind:
The Triumph of the
by Benson Bobrick.
Simon & Schuster, 553 pages,
Mr. Bobrick's history of the American Revolution is
not, he declares, written to promote any revisionist theories or supersede
any previous works. His ancestors fought on both sides in the war, and he
has an enthusiastic personal interest in it. Such an interest is the only
sound reason for writing history, and in this instance has produced a
splendidly lively retelling of "a remarkable story. "Mr. Bobrick does not
hurry his narrative. He includes minor but meaningful details. He
establishes the background of important people. He explains the kind of
regulations that had galled the Colonists for years: "As early as 1699, the
Crown had banned the exportation to England of American wool or woolen
materials," to protect the British cloth trade. He describes the
construction of the Turtle, "the first submarine in military
history," although she accomplished nothing against a British
copper-bottom. He quotes lavishly and effectively from letters by men who
were not haunted by nitpicking journalists and had no need to mask
themselves with bland governmentese -- a language happily undeveloped
in those days. One encounters, directly, Jefferson's liking for formally
polished rhetoric, Adams's lawyerly addiction to accumulated evidence, and
Washington's awe-inspiring ability to combine -- with no hint of
effort -- lucidity, courtesy, and enormous practical intelligence. The
courtesy was maintained even in bizarre circumstances. When "Light-Horse"
Harry Lee proposed the ferocious execution of deserters, Washington advised
moderation. Beheading, he thought, "had better be omitted."
Each highlighted book title can be ordered from Amazon.com.
Browse an anthology of Brief Reviews by
by Richard Russo.
Random House, 391 pages,
Mr. Russo's latest novel is designed to provide
intelligent entertainment and does precisely that. His protagonist is a
mildly discontented, semi-burnt-out academic who, as chairman of the
English department at a state university constantly threatened with budget
cuts, takes mischievous pleasure in upsetting the eccentric members of his
disorderly platoon. One would not expect to find this sly boat-rocker on a
television newscast flourishing a live goose and threatening a massacre of
ducks. Mr. Russo brings that and subsequent uproars off deftly, with
crackling dialogue, persuasive characters, and amusing satire.
The Merry Heart
by Robertson Davies.
Viking, 385 pages, $27.95.
This collection of speeches and occasional pieces by
the late novelist allows a reader to enjoy the company of a fine writer
with a great love of books and a great range of knowledge and ideas. Some
of Davies's ideas are iconoclastic, and will delight those who share them
while stimulating those who do not. All his judgments are interesting,
steeped in humanism, and most elegantly put.
by Rick Collignon.
MacMurray & Beck, 221 pages,
The protagonist of Mr. Collignon's novel is Will
Sawyer, a dropout from gringo society who has landed comfortably in a small
mountain town in New Mexico. The local language is Spanish, but most of the
inhabitants are bilingual, which has enabled Sawyer to get by for nearly
twenty years with a limited grip on Spanish. He has a house, a sufficiently
prosperous contracting business in partnership with his friend Felipe, and
a casual mistress. He also has a great interest in old stories about the
town that he considers his home. The old stories are usually just
that -- what can be done about skeletons found years ago in the loft
of a church? -- but one story is recent enough, and odd enough, to
provoke Sawyer's curiosity. He begins asking questions. To his surprise,
this sets off an eruption of anger and outrage and actual danger. Years of
resentment against Anglo meddling and Anglo money come to the surface,
showing Sawyer his alien status and reminding the reader of the subtlety
and persistence of inherited cultural attitudes. These sociological
underpinnings rarely appear on the novel's surface, which offers fine
descriptions of scenery and weather, small-town chitchat, complaints about
irrigation water -- until the violence breaks out. Mr. Collignon has
created a distinct and meaningful world.
by Erica Jong.
HarperCollins, 300 pages,
Ms. Jong's novel begins in the twenty-first century,
with a young woman engaged in research on the history of Jews in America.
She finds her own female ancestors and puts together a partly imaginary,
partly documented account of their doings. It amounts to a survey of what
women with nerve and talent have accomplished in the twentieth century.
Sarah, fleeing Russian pogroms, arrived around 1900 and achieved great
success as a portrait painter. Her daughter Salome fled to Paris in the
1920s, met everyone from Picasso to Edith Wharton, wrote controversial
novels, and produced Sally, a singer wildly admired in public and
neurotically miserable in private. The editor is Sally's daughter, who has
not yet done anything remarkable. The affairs of these women are
interlocked throughout with events in the world at large. Because the book
is a feminist history, the male characters (with one major exception) are
poor investments, but the author has given the boys a fair shake. They are
not stereotyped boobs and boors but men with reason for their disabilities.
Ms. Jong's writing sparkles with wit and intelligence all the way, as one
would expect from this highly accomplished author.
by Joseph Kanon.
Broadway, 403 pages,
Expert writing, an adroitly managed plot, and a totally
convincing evocation of the last months of the Second World War make this
espionage novel well worth the attention of serious readers. Mr. Kanon
introduces ethical concerns that reach beyond the genre's standard
questions of who is stealing information or plotting sabotage.
edited by Margot Blum Schevill,
photographs by Jeffrey Jay Foxx.
Abrams, 232 pages,
The authors who provide the text for Mr. Foxx's
brilliant photographs present weaving as a survival of Mayan religion and a
symbol of the whole Mayan civilization, and their accounts of the
geography, history, and accomplishments of the Maya make that
interpretation believable. The book is beautiful to look at, whether or not
one has an interest in Mayan culture.
Recent books by Atlantic authors:
Know Thine Enemy: A Spy's Journey Into Revolutionary Iran by
Edward Shirley. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 247 pages, $24.00. A portion
of this book first appeared, in somewhat different form, as "Not Fanatics,
and Not Friends," in the December, 1993, Atlantic Monthly.
Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly
Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; August 1997; Brief Reviews; Volume 280, No. 2;