The Peripatetic Reviewer

AT THE time I am speaking of, the early twenties, the job of companion-tutor was the highestpaid employment an undergraduate could hope to obtain for the summer. There was no union, and indeed it would have been quite impossible to have set union rates for such diverse requirements. When I filled out my blank at University Hall I declared that I could ride (exaggeration), play tennis and golf, swim and teach swimming; enjoyed backgammon, auction bridge, poker, mah-jongg, hearts, and twenty-one (all true); danced the fox-trot, maxixe, and waltz; and was qualified to tutor in Algebra, English, French, and Latin (slight exaggeration).
Anyone offering such a program expected to be on duty twelve to fourteen hours a day — and be paid for it. I drew one line: I wanted breakfast by myself and to be alone until 9 A.M.
In early June we applicants were interviewed by the parents and sometimes by the prospective tutee. These were the days of spacious country houses and plenty of servants. On one interview at some distance from Cambridge I dressed for the parents, a Charvet tie and still collar, and during the delicious tea, with us scones, strawberry jam, and white cake with a bitter chocolate icing, while we spoke often of young Jack, the boy himself seemed not in evidence. It took me some time to spot him under the piano, where, concealed by the portiere, he had been sizing me up.
“Come out back,” he said, as he emerged, “and show me what you can do.”
Out back were some horizontal bars which did not appeal to me in my Charvet finery. “I’m pretty accurate with a stone,” I said, glancing at the driveway. “Tell me what you want me to hit.”
Surprised, he pointed to two slim cherry trees, and I pinged first one and then the other. We went on to examine the brook, which was a good one and about which I made some useful hints, and then turned back to rejoin the parents. I noticed that against the rear wall of the house, leading up to a window, was a stepladder.
“Days when I have nothing else to do,” said the tutee dreamily, “I climb up there and watch the maids take their baths.”
“If I come, you won’t be doing that,” I said.
“Oh yes I will,” he said, with the confidence of an only son, “and you will too.”
He was ten, and big for his years. In the discussion of my fitness which went on after my departure, the boy, as I learned later, asked how old I was, and being told, seemed surprised that I wasn’t married. “At that age,” he remarked, “he’s either a saint or a devil,” and on that note I was hired.
My early-morning privacy was hard to enforce. Small boys are enormously curious, and my charge had an inexhaustible interest in my belongings. I am neat by nature, and the top drawer of my bureau, which held my handkerchiefs, neckties, and the little leather case with my cuff links and shirt studs, was the object of his recurring exploration as soon as he knew I was awake. I decided to pay no attention to him and went on with my shaving and dressing as if he weren’t there.
On the third morning of this charade I heard a muffled cry and looked up to see that he had imprisoned himself. He had pulled out the drawer, gone through the entire contents, and had then thrust his head sideways into the opening to see what lay beneath. But when he tried to withdraw, his ears caught, and the pain and panic set him lamenting and hammering with his fists.
“You are hurting my child,” said his mother as she entered all breathless in her bathrobe.
“He has no right to be here as early as this,” I said, as we lifted his feet and turned him sideways for his extrication. From that day on I dressed and had breakfast alone.
My equestrian ability was not called upon until my senior year. For me to use that label at all is really a courtesy to the horse, for from the moment I step into the stirrups he knows who is boss. The family job for which I had been hired that summer demanded riding, and since it paid three hundred dollars a month, ride I must. To get into form I applied to the commander of our artillery unit at Harvard. “Oh, sure, sure,” said the major. “We have forty horses on the picket line at the Commonwealth Avenue Armory. Just give this note to the sergeant, and he’ll see that you get a different mount every day.”
In whipcords and my old ambulance tunic, five afternoons a week I made my way to the Armory, scrambled up on those rawboned nags, and then went tagging along at the end of the detail as it followed the bridle paths through Brookline, with occasional pauses as we crossed the macadam parkways. All the way out I was gradually surrendering control to my mount as he worked the bit into a more comfortable clench. But when we turned for home he knew it, and with John Gilpin hanging on, he lit out. We soon left the detail beyond shouting distance; we thundered across the traffic as if it didn’t exist; policemen blew their whistles and then said, “What the hell!” When at last we reached the picket line he dug in, and I would sail over his head to the ground, where I was glad to be. I did this for three weeks in succession, and ended by paying the sergeant ten dollars. He looked surprised, but soon recovered. “We’ll miss you,” he said, as he pocketed the cash, “and you haven’t hurt one of them.”
The family that employed me that summer had four horses: a big black mare; Wildfire, a Morgan stallion; and two mousy brown mares. It was the groom’s desire that I ride the big black and that the Morgan be reserved for the boy of the household. We rode the dusty country roads of upstate New York, sunny, undulating farmland with the big lake always in view from the hilltops. But not for long. For, however I planned it, a race soon broke out between the big black and the Morgan.
The Morgan was sure he should go first, and the big black had the power to prevent him; and, leaving the girls behind us to eat our dust, we would break into a gallop. Soon I would be galloping by myself, and since the black had a mouth of iron, the only way I could stop her was to haul her off the road and aim her at the wall of a barn, where she would finally halt and stand quivering and blowing until the cavalcade came up.
Fortunately lor me there was tutoring to be done, which ate up much of the mornings, and I was rather better than was expected at tennis, swimming, and cards. There was also an innovation — a surfboard, introduced at my suggestion; we hitched it to the stern of the motorboat and then rode it in bouncing curves around the lake. Our cove was the first to have one. My bathingsuit, the smart thing for those days, was dark blue, top and bottom; the trunks were of flannel, with a white canvas belt. I hadn’t realized how loose they were until, early in the surfboarding, as we were getting up enough speed for me to stand up on the board, the trunks were swept off and disappeared in the wake. “Get up, get up,” they kept shouting from the cockpit. “Go to the shore! Go to the shore!" I kept shouting from the submerged end where I trailed. And eventually they did.


JOHN O’HARA, every inch a professional, is like a major league pitcher, like Pennock, Grove, or Spahn, who, as he loses his speed, comes to rely on the curve and the slider. Early in his career, in Appointment in Samarra, Butterfield 8, and Pal Joey, he had a fast ball no one could touch, a gift for writing about life that was tough and amusing. Then, in mid-career he began to change his pitch, and some of the zip went out of his fiction as he moved up into respectability. In ELIZABETH APPLETON (Random House, $4.95) he tells the story of a well-bred, well-stacked New Yorker, a product of Miss Chapin’s and Southampton who falls in love with an athletic tutor, marries him in 1931, and with money of her own comes to live in the little college town of Spring Valley, Pennsylvania. Spring Valley is a freshwater, trusteeinfested institution, never in the same class with Haverford and now on the downgrade. What John Appleton, Elizabeth’s husband, might have contributed to it as the new president we can only imagine, lor Mr. O’Hara is very little concerned with the intellectual side of the college. What he is concerned with is John’s integrity as a dean and with Elizabeth’s slowly awakened and somewhat hazardous sex life. This is where his curve comes in, and it is a good one; he keeps throwing it, with just enough deception, throughout the book.
In design and development, Elizabeth Abbleton invites comparison with Point of No Return by John Marquand. Each establishes a marriage before World War II, and in each the husband is on his way to success when he goes into the service. But at the war’s end, neither Charles Gray nor John Appleton is sure that he wants to go on with his job. Each has behind him an ambitious wife, and each has reached the point where it is difficult, if not impossible, to turn in a new direction. This was the predicament of many an aging veteran.
Marquand and O’Hara are both skilled in the use of documentary detail, which gives their stories verisimilitude. Neither is adept in the handling of children: the children in Elizabeth Appleton are offstage, and any reference to them is usually awkward. Marquand is far the abler satirist and depends on his sense of humor more often and more entertainingly than O’Hara ever does. What O’Hara depends on is his immense curiosity about sex. He writes of sex with none of the diffidence that one finds in Marquand, and to give O’Hara his due, he is more persuasive about it than his rival. Elizabeth’s affair with Porter Ditson, which develops while John is in the Navy, is the major theme and is handled with such vitality that one is tempted to overlook the coarse-grained caricature of the college community in which it is laid.


What attracts me in HORTENSE CALISHER’S short stories, and now in her new novel, TEXTURES OF LIFE (Little, Brown, $4.75), is the intimate accuracy with which she can depict a young couple in their attraction to each other and in their opposition to the older generation. In Textures of Life her spotlight from the start plays upon Elizabeth and David, affiliates of the Beat, and on how they set up housekeeping in a series of studio lofts in which he will develop his photography and she her sculpture. Elizabeth’s rejection of her mother’s help exceeds David’s rejection of his father only because Mr. Pagani has been dying by inches and David knows it. The island life which David and Elizabeth devise for themselves in the midst of the noise and dirt, and the tenderness with which they explore each other, I find touching.
It is a different matter, however, when Miss Calisher tries to call out sympathy for Elizabeth’s widowed mother and David’s ailing father. Mr. Pagani’s sickness, a succession of spasms and recoveries, is almost as hard on the reader as it is on the victim, and that the castoffs should find such consolation in each other is hard to believe. It is the young ones who give this story its validity.
ROBERT NATHAN’S short novel, THE DEVIL WITH LOVE (Knopf, $3.95), is a lighthearted discussion of good and evil, with a plot that lands a demon in a California coast town, where he sets up as a quack doctor. Samael is such a civilized demon and the local priest, Father Deener, such a gentle old innocent that their association can hardly be described as conflict. It is more in the nature of a mild divergence of opinion, with much to be said in favor of both parties. Mr. Nathan enlivens his little fable with some amusing jabs at contemporary manners and politics, and occasionally achieves a miracle of condensed description, as when he reports of the pretty seventeen-year-old secretary of the demon, “She was quite sure that she could take care of herself, if she wanted to.”