WILLIAM ABRAHAMS’ new novel, CHILDREN OF CAPRICORN (Random House, S3.95), is a story of two youngpeople dominated by their family history, and of how one escapes from this prison and the other does not. The period (the nineteen thirties) and the place (western Massachusetts) are described with exceptional sharpness and fidelity. The tone of the family, overridden by a formidable matriarch and intimidated by the glory of a literary ancestor, is consistent, sourly amusing, altogether right even to the subtly aroused suspicion that grandfather was really a lousy poet. If the book has a defect, it is the same one that afflicts Wickford Point. Mr. Abrahams has been truthful about a particular region and a particular type of New England family, and neither region nor family conforms to the generally accepted idea of New England. It is possible that only the local aborigines are equipped to appreciate this intelligent and accomplished novel.
THE NOVELS OF A. C. SWINBURNE (Farrar, Straus, $6.50) are, it turns out, two: Love’s Cross Currents and Lesbia Brandon. Neither is now likely to alter the course of English literature, and both suggest that if Swinburne had stuck to prose with more persistence, or taken it more seriously, he might have become an important novelist. But Watts-Dunton, that worthy bear leader, was not amused, and Swinburne the novelist remains more a beguiling possibility than an accomplished fact. Edmund Wilson’s introduction to these novels says everything that needs to be said about them with a fine blend of grace and scholarship.
A peculiar anthology of Americana, THE WAYFARING STRANGER’S NOTEBOOK (Bobbs-Merrill, $4.95), is a jumble of fact, legend, quotation, and opinion compiled by BURL IVES. It is useless to wonder where Mr. Ives picked up his material, which ranges from Jefferson’s letters on Indian wars to moldy comic epitaphs, or to brood about how much he may simply have invented. The book is held together and justified by Mr. Ives’s humor and enthusiasm. He provides no bibliography, attributing everything to an uncle, Dr. Sam Icle Ivanhoe, who is clearly fictional. Nobody, unfortunately, could have a name like that in fact.
The new translation of THE TORAH (The Jewish Publication Society of America, $5.00) is the work of a committee of scholars, undertaken largely because recent advances in Near Eastern archaeology, both biblical and secular, have made the older English version inadequate in some respects. The result is impressive. The committee has achieved a style which is dignified without stiffening into formality and easy without drifting into colloquialism. There are no antique echoes and no unnerving modernisms. It is, in the best sense, classic prose and should stand for a long time, unless the archaeologists dig up too much history.
JOHN TOLAND’S THE DILLINGER DAYS (Random House, $5.95) is a fast, unreflective history of the era of bloody bank robberies. It seems like a tale from another century now, and in a way it is, for Dillinger and his trigger-happy kind were the last of the James boys rather than precursors of the elegant masqueraders that cleaned out Brink’s. As a stylist, Mr. Toland is undistinguished, but the uproar of his material will probably console any reader with the faintest interest in the mechanics of sticking up a bank.
OF STREETS AND STARS (Houghton Mifflin, $4.50) by ALAN MARCUS was originally published in California in a limited edition. It is now available on a normal basis, as it should be, for the writing is notably lively and original. Set in Hollywood, the novel rambles around the edges of a film lot without ever getting seriously mixed up with the movie business. Mr. Marcus introduces a large number of people, all different, all convincing, for the purpose of demonstrating that their real lives have no connection with each other or with the means by which they earn a living. There have been a lot of novels lately about isolation and the failure of communication between individuals, and too many of these books fail to communicate anything except the isolation of the author. Of Streets and Stars is outside this dismal category. Mr. Marcus knows his characters and has succeeded very well in making a coherent whole of material selected for its essential disjointedness.