Reader's Choice

THE SPIRE (Harcourt, Brace & World, $3.95) is possibly the best thus far of WILLIAM GOLDING’S haunting parables of the human condition. The setting is medieval England at the time of the building of the cathedrals, but the atmosphere is at once so much of a never-never land and so full of nervous suspense that it seems like a cross between Maeterlinck’s Pelléas el Mélisande and the high-strung melodrama of the early Graham Greene. The implications of Mr. Golding’s tale, as always, are ominous for human nature.
Jocelin, dean of the Cathedral of Our Lady, is driven by the desire to crown his church with a steeple four hundred feet high that will be visible to all the countryside round about. His architect, Roger Mason, doubts that the foundations can support that height; but Jocelin is in the grip of his idea and will not be deterred by any counsel of moderation. He relentlessly whips his workers and congregation forward in the enterprise.
Mr. Golding generates much suspense by the detailed business of the building. An even greater element of tension piles up in the series of disillusioning discoveries that try Jocelin’s faith. As the builders dig downward they discover that their trusted ancestors, who were supposed to have built so well in the good old days, carelessly erected the church on a swamp. At one point the waters burst through the floor, as if mother earth — nature arrayed against spirit — were intent on punishing the presumption of the builders. The pillars sway continually and make an eerie music that frightens the congregation. A final blow to Jocelin’s faith in the ancestors is delivered by a workman who thrusts an iron bar into an old pillar and shows that it is filled, not with good solid brick, but rubble.
Jocelin has also to learn about his own connivance with the forces of evil. His chief source of funds for building the spire has been his aunt, Lady Allison, mistress to the king. When she arrives, late in the book, she discloses that Jocelin’s promotion over his fellow clerics, on whom he has looked down, was due not to his own ability but to her adulterous influence at court. An ecclesiastical official come to investigate discovers that while Jocelin has been building his towering edifice, he has neglected to conduct services or even to keep the church candles lit. The cathedral, which would soar so high, has lost contact with the life of the people.
In a nightmarish scene of tempest and rain Jocelin himself finally nails the spire at the top. But it hangs awry and crazy, as if tottering to fall. On his deathbed Jocelin, incoherent about almost everything else, still anxiously asks, “Has it fallen yet?”
Is Jocelin a saint, or a madman in the frenzied grip of an impossible ideal? Mr. Golding’s answer is ambiguous. He does make powerfully clear that all faith rests on a quagmire, that our inheritance from the past is always imperfect, and that holy purposes have, in the way of the world, to do business with corruption and evil. But he seems to be suggesting, too, that without the absurdity of a faith like Jocelin’s, no cathedrals would ever be built.
The book opens with a crackle of language that immediately sets the tone throughout; “He was laughing, chin up. and shaking his head. God the Father was exploding in his face with the glory of sunlight through painted glass.” Agile and poetic, Mr. Golding’s prose throws off wheels and spokes of light. In a symbolic story like this, the sheer intensity of style has to work hard to make up for a lack of substance in characterization. For all his fantastic passion, Jocelin himself is a rather thin character, on the verge of evaporating into his own hallucinations. We are not always sure when he is seeing devils in his head or in the world, and the confusion becomes a little fatiguing toward the end. The other characters float in and out of Jocelin’s visions like insubstantial vapors. The novel as a whole has the startling quality of one of Ingmar Bergman’s medieval phantasmagorias; but Mr. Bergman has at his disposal the unusually sharp focus of his camera, while Mr. Golding’s images often blur.


JACOB J. JAVITS, junior senator from New York, is considered by some people as a minority of one within the Republican Party. During his 1962 election campaign, as a result of which he won by a greater margin than Governor Rockefeller, he was persistently asked why he was a Republican rather than a Democrat, and in CALL TO REASON: A REPUBLICAN SUMMONS HIS PARTY (Atheneum, $5,95), he sets out to answer the question. In so doing he presents a program for Republicans that is remarkably vigorous, courageous, and intelligent, and that — because this is a presidential year and he has repeatedly demonstrated his power at the polls — might be listened to within the circles of his own party.
Mr. Javits did not bury himself in a library to surface years later and declare, “I am a Republican.” Born in New York’s lower East Side, he was exposed early to the corruptions of the Tammany machine. Later, in 1932, he came into active politics to assist in the campaign of Mayor La Guardia to clean up the city’s government. But if these accidents of biography inclined him in his present direction, Mr. Javits makes clear that his Republicanism now is a matter of principle and that it has a solid basis in one tradition of his party. He chooses four ancestors for his political philosophy: Hamilton, Clay, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. True, Hamilton was a Federalist, and Clay a Whig, but Mr. Javits is convinced that they were intellectual forebears of the Republican Party.
Hamilton’s belief in the propriety of governmental intervention in the economy, according to Mr. Javits, would probably cause the radical right to brand him as a leftist, were he alive today. (Would he be likely, therefore, to be considered a typical Republican?) Mr. Javits’ clearest ancestry really lies in the progressive Republicanism of Theodore Roosevelt; and, significantly, a quotation from T. R. is placed on the title page, to the effect that the national government belongs to all the people, and where the interests of all the people are concerned, only the national government can be their guardian. To some of Mr. Javits’ colleagues who persistently talk of the federal government as the people’s enemy, this dictum of T.R.’s must surely come with the sting of surprise.
On many crucial matters — medical care for the aged, urban renewal, the need for a balanced economy rather than a balanced budget — Mr. Javits submits a program that would meet with the approval of any liberal Democrat. On the other hand, Mr. Javits might retort by asking Democratic liberals why they do not move over to his side of the aisle and throw off their bondage of Southern conservativism. Perhaps, as James MacGregor Burns has suggested, our party labels have begun to lose their meaning and a new political alignment needs to be sought, with conservatives on one side and liberals on the other.
Unlike a good many politicians, Mr. Javits is specific and thorough on the issues, and in this very intelligent and forthright book he has made a distinguished contribution toward educating the electorate.


For the last twenty years or more ERICH MARIA REMARQUE’S novels have dealt with the desperate world of the refugees, THE NIGHT IN LISBON (Harcourt, Brace & World, $4.95) sticks to the same past, and though his subject matter now loses the immediacy of impact it had in the earlier novels, Remarque still has his usual virtues: he tells a story sparely and well, his materials have been known at firsthand, and he does not affect literary airs and graces. This novel is like a good Grade B motion picture, with more reality and entertainment than the gilded epics or superspectaculars. Whatever his ultimate literary stature, Remarque is surely one writer whom future historians cannot overlook in trying to describe the refugee limbo of the twentieth century.
The time is 1942; the place, Lisbon. The narrator, never named, stands on the dock staring out at a ship that will depart for America the next day. He and his wife are stranded without tickets or visas. Out of the darkness a stranger approaches and offers him passage, on condition that he will spend the night listening to the stranger’s tale. And thereby hangs a novel.
The stranger poses as Josef Schwartz, but the name has merely been inherited from a passport handed on by another dying refugee who had it from a dead one before him. In this world of anonymity personal identity becomes submerged under official documents. Shortly after the rise of Hitler, Josef had fled from Germany leaving his wife, Helen, behind him. The marriage had not been unhappy, but its passion had lapsed. Some years later he felt an unaccountable impulse to return to see his wife, if only for a few hours. When they met again, they really fell in love for the first time, and decided to escape together. For a while they were happy in Paris. But after the defeat of France in 1940 they had to flee again, and endure the agony of concentration camps until they could escape to Lisbon.
In the meantime, Josef learned that Helen was suffering from an incurable cancer, with little time left to live. She drifted away from her husband, took to drinking and wandering the streets at night. Just before they were to embark for America, she died. Josef no longer has any use for the tickets; he will stay on to serve in the foreign legion and continue the fight against Hitler.
Remarque describes, in passing, the look of the refugee as an imperceptible lifting of the eyebrows followed by a stare of blank indifference — the expression of men who have learned to live with the buffetings of fate by cultivating irony and detachment. At the end of his own story, he cannot avoid making the same ironic shrug to deflate its tragedy. The narrator accepts the tickets from Schwartz, but they bring him no luck. Shortly after he and his wife arrive in the Promised Land, their marriage, quite in the American pattern, breaks up in divorce.


During last year’s hearings on the tax bill, one exhausted and bewildered representative stumbled away exclaiming, “I just don’t understand modern economics!” For many people modern economics seems about as enigmatic and fanciful as modern art. According to BERNARD D. NOSSITER in THE MYTHMAKERS (Houghton Mifflin, $4.00), the puzzle is mostly of our own making because we continue to perpetuate legends and fairy tales instead of taking a hard look at the realities of our economy.
All of us — ordinary citizens as well as corporate executives — are caught up in the economic mythology. Mr. Nossiter makes a hard case against the business community as politically so shortsighted that it is inclined at times to act even against its own best interests. In the celebrated conflict between President Kennedy and Roger Blough of U.S. Steel, he insists the motives of the former were economic, and those of the latter political. The President had used his influence to hold down the steelworkers’ wages, an action perfectly in line with the traditional claim by business that labor costs are the chief problem in keeping down prices. Mr. Blough, on the other hand, wanted to make a political test of power to sec whether the government would act against a price rise, even though his own accounting staff had advised that such a rise was not necessary and might even hurt the competitiveness of U.S. Steel abroad. Business, which was quite willing to accept government influence in its favor, wanted to insist on the political principle that its own freedom of action was not to be limited in any way by federal action.
No doubt this persistent critique of corporate power is going to provoke controversy, but the real value of Mr. Nossiter’s book is not as a polemic. As a trained economist and practicing journalist (he is the national economics reporter for the Washington Post), Mr. Nossiter shows an unusual combination of two gifts that are indispensable in a book like this: a firsthand grasp of his subject and an ability to write clear and lively prose. The Mythmakers is one of the most intelligent and readable of recent guides to the workings of our national economy.


The heart of man is a strange and deep place, as DAIS GRUBB sees it, and in his novels he has given us powerfully moving yet tender glimpses of this obscure region. The short story is a less congenial and more restricting medium for his gifts, yet TWELVE TALES OF SUSPENSE AND THE SUPERNATURAL (Scribner’s, $3.95), which is uneven in its achievement, shows the marks of an exceptional talent, and provides, along with some duds, plenty of shivers and entertainment.
Mr. Grubb is a regional writer whose imagination has never left the West Virginia town on the banks of the Ohio where he grew up. He is at his best when his story has enough space to move around in so that he can capture the atmosphere of his native place. In these stories, the occasional touches of nature — the woods where the papaws grow and the crying of rain crows in the butternut tree — come alive with an intensity lacking in Mr. Grubb’s urban settings. But his vision of the human heart as a dark and mysterious place, which comes off well in the longer narrative forms, tends to degenerate in the short story to the mechanical and macabre.
Yet even some of his more contrived stories are done with a brisk efficiency and suspense. The “Return of Verge Likens” recounts the ingenious revenge of a mountaineer upon the local political boss, Riley McGrath, who has killed his father. Verge goes away to a barber’s college; when he returns, he manages to get the boss into a chair for a shave. As Verge shaves him very, very slowly, he tells Riley who he is. When the coroner arrives, Riley has died of a heart attack, but he has been shaved so carefully (and legally) that there is not a scratch on his face.
Elsewhere Mr. Grubb’s mood is more magical and evocative. “The Man Who Stole the Moon” deals with the theft of the moon from a trout pond by a young man who wants to lay it at the feet of his beloved. It seems a most unlikely subject, but the author manages it well. The most haunting story in this vein, “Where the Woodbine Twineth,” portrays an imaginative little girl who changes places with her doll.
The collection has much variety, and though some of the stories are obvious potboilers, there is everywhere an abundance and vigor of imagination that redeem the whole.


JAMES BURNHAM is a thinker and writer of great gifts who manages nevertheless to be persistently wrongheaded whenever he comes to deal with politics, SUICIDE OF THE WEST (John Day, $5.95), an aggressive and intemperate attack upon all liberals as being weak-kneed and confused do-gooders subtly preparing the defeat of Western civilization, carries to an extreme all of his usual faults: the tendency to see everything in black-and-white contrasts, the addiction to sweeping generalization, and the penchant for grandiose prophecy.
Mr. Burnham’s record in prophecy is not altogether unblemished. In 1941 he predicted with positive assurance that Germany and Japan would soon divide the world between them. Ten years later, The Coming Defeat of Communism, in which the Reds were just about to collapse, almost persuaded some of us, in view of Mr. Burnham’s fallibility as a prophet, to take to the hills. Is Western Europe really weaker now than a decade ago when, in the high tide of McGarthyism, Mr. Burnham was confidently predicting the overthrow of Communism? General Charles de Gaulle doesn’t act as if he thought so. Since history has such an obstinate habit of playing tricks with Mr. Burnham’s predictions, we might almost be consoled by his present vision.
Of course, like most people, liberals frequently do and say foolish things, of which Mr. Burnham has a hatful of citations. But when he comes down to the three positive tasks confronting the West in its struggle for survival — the clearing up of the jungles of our cities, the lessening of worldwide poverty, and the confrontation of Communist power — it seems to me that on the first two, at least, liberals form the only political group which has insisted on taking action. Conservatives blocked the formation of a Department of Urban Affairs, and conservatives arc usually the people most opposed to any kind of foreign aid. Mr. Burnham does not even touch on our lagging economy, which, if continued, would surely lead to our defeat by Communism, and which only liberals seem to be calling to the public’s attention.
A livelier and more profitable examination of social decay is SUICIDE OF A NATION?, a collection of essays on the state of Britain today, edited by Arthur Koestler (Macmillan, $4.95). The sixteen contributors to this book range over nearly every topic — economics, sex, education, social snobbery, complacency — and in almost all cases they turn in a bad report card for their country’s performance. Yet their tone is constructive, the writing is peppery, and I doubt if we in this country could produce such a vigorous assemblage of critical intelligence as this without becoming sectarian or shrill. It Mr. Koestler’s collection is any evidence, the British are very much alive and kicking; and, as has happened at various times in their history, it would be entirely premature to write of their demise.


GILBERT MILLSTEIN is a native New Yorker who would cough if he were inhaling fresh air instead of exhaust fumes. Followers of his sharp reportage, year in and year out, in the New York Times will be glad that he has at last put together his views on the big town, and particularly glad that he has found a felicitous collaborator in the photographer SAM FALK. Their joint effort, NEW YORK: TRUE NORTH (Doubleday, 37.95), is as sprawling and exciting as the Empire City itself.
Mr. Falk has poked his cameras everywhere, from the top hats at the horse show to the kids in backyard slums, and his photographs, without artiness or fuzzy “atmosphere,” are sharp and natural. Mr. Millstein adorns the pictures with a copious text by way of explication, analysis, and sometimes unabashed lyricism. He has also adopted the ingenious device of adding “Witnesses,” named and unnamed, from bottom to top of the social ladder, who speak their. pieces about the city; and while a few are straitjacketed or phony, a good many really touch the raw nerve of metropolitan life.
Mr. Millstein writes with a toughguy sentimentality, but from time to time he is properly irreverent. For example, he describes the mausoleum of Lincoln Center with becoming restraint as “the newest supermarket for the production, distribution, and consumption of music.”
He takes wing on a burst of lyricism: “New York is the pulse by which the heartheat of the world is measured,” but at the end he comes down to reality: “almost no neighborhoods left. Man is not the measure of anything in this city.” Only the old lady from Dubuque believes that New York measures the heartheat of the world; few people, however, would doubt that it is in the vanguard of cities all over the world on matters of pollution, congestion, noise, crime, delinquency, and honky-tonk. Mr. Millstein acknowledges that the city has become nearly impossible to live in; but he is hooked, and he finds it impossible to live anywhere else.