Three brief book reviews

The Dog Star, by Donald Windham. Doubleday, $3.00.

This ably written, unpretentious first novel deals with the brief career of a juvenile delinquent, Blackie Pride runs away from reform school when his best friend and idol, Whitey, commits suicide. Returning to his home, he sets out to be as flawlessly tough, as inhumanly selfsufficient as Whitey. He gets a girl, swaggers around the low dives, gambles, steals, bullies, callously discards his girl, and eventually gets into trouble with other petty gangsters. To Blackie Pride, “Affection, happiness and pleasure were compensations of the weak. And his desire for an ideal strength, unpolluted by the compensations of the world . . . was so strong that the more renunciations were demanded the more strong it grew.”The Dog Star is a perceptive study of this twisted idealism.
Mr. Windham has succeeded in projecting his central character with real understanding and compassion. He has sketched Blackie’s tough little world sharply and economically; and he has been able to keep his story continually on the move.
The Sunnier Side, by Charles Jackson. Farrar, Straus, $2.75.

In these twelve stories set in the village of Arcadia in upstate New York, Mr. Jackson backtracks from The Lost Weekend and shows us the boyhood and adolescence of Don Birnam during the years l912 to 1918. The title piece is something of a stunt. Cast as a reply to a letter asking why he neglects the sunnier side of life, it interweaves reflections on the craft of fiction with the life stories of the three girlhood companions of Jackson’s correspondent, who grew up in Arcadia. Their destinies were, respectively, nymphomania and alcoholism; obesity and accidental death; unhappy marriage climaxed by murder of husband, child, and self. Most of the other eleven tales in the book hinge on the sexual tensions of the teens, dramatized against a background of smalltown mores.

Mr. Jackson again displays marked narrative ability, but even so he is unequal to making his subject matter seem other than trivial and unpleasant in the majority of these pieces.

Your Trip Abroad: The Handbook of Pleasure Travel, by Richard Joseph. Doiddeday, $2.95.

Though addressed primarily to prospective innocents abroad, this unusually comprehensive and intelligently planned handbook contains a good deal of information that will come in useful to the seasoned traveler. The author is inclined to write the ruthlessly folksy, tirelessly bouncy brand of prose that has become the professional patois of today’s travel dopesters, but otherwise his book shows a pretty civilized point of view — it starts out, very sensibly, by rebutting the mischievous legend that every foreigner is hell-bent on plundering the American visitor.

Mr. Joseph manages to dispense a phenomenal amount of factual information about all of the countries in Western Europe except Spain; about most of South America; Mexico and the Caribbean; and Hawaii. In addition to dealing with such obvious matters as fares, hotels, and prices, he lists restaurants, night clubs, outstanding shops, and “useful addresses" (pharmacies, travel agencies, consulates, and so forth). He offers sight-seeing itineraries and goes very thoroughly into the problem of tipping in each country. Your Trip Abroad is the best of the comprehensive travel books which have been put out to date.