“Whatever we do,”ISAMU NOGUCHI observes in A SCULPTOR’S WORLD (Harper & Row, $20.00), “we end up with ourselves, no better, no worse.” This belief accounts, in an oblique way, for both the considerable merits and the exasperating omissions of Mr. Noguchi’s venture into something resembling autobiography. It has not occurred to him that writing, an accretion of words building up meaning as a coral reef builds up from the sea bottom, is not the same process as knocking off chips of stone to reveal one of many possible shapes. Mr. Noguchi writes of action, tools, the working qualities of clay and granite, the differences between a piece which makes a hole in space and one which encloses space, one which sits on ground and one which floats in air. He seldom offers reasons other than availability or novelty for the choice of one material or objective over another, and makes no attempt to relate the events of his life to the remarkable variety of styles in which he has worked. As a history of work done and methods used, the book is unusual and highly interesting. One must be grateful for it, but it nags at the mind by raising questions that the author does not answer. Behind the abstraction and cool practicality of Mr. Noguchi’s prose one detects, or seems to detect, the presence of a quite different person — a demonically energetic basher and hewer, a hotheaded experimenter, a man of odd history, wide travel, interesting acquaintance, and a certain gift for highminded imbroglio. Mr. Noguchi refuses to introduce this fellow.
It is astonishing that any author should assume the possibility of arousing general interest in the history, recent changes, and current condition of a remote farming district in Connecticut, and more astonishing that in THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE (Oxford University Press, $5.00), CHRISTOPHER RAND has succeeded with the project.
There was a Laurel and Hardy film in which they tripped on a wintry mountain and became incorporated in a snowball which grew larger, faster, and funnier as it rolled and bounced down what was, to judge from the length of the trip, a moderate alp. When the snowball finally hit a tree and burst, it disgorged Laurel, Hardy, and an unforeseen but obviously disgruntled bear. This is the trick in GEORGE DEAUX’S novel, SUPER WORM (Simon and Schuster, $5.50). It starts out in a barbershop with a scene of such hilarious satirical lunacy that even while laughing one cringes from the inevitable letdown, for the author cannot possibly keep up this pace. So much for prophecy. He does keep it up. He even increases it by adding matters of sober public concern to what began as the slapstick nervous breakdown of a history professor. Professor Flowers, a nice man but mad, has assumed homedyed black underwear and the title of Superworm and proposes to correct all the abominations of modern society. Flowers is improbable, to put it gently, but the abominations are real. Mr. Deaux has got a live and nasty bear wrapped up in that snowball, and its emergence brings a chill of belief. This is a very funny, very clever, savagely pessimistic book.
BABELTO BYZANTIUM (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $5.95) assembles ten years of criticism by James Dickey, as shrewd, versatile, learned, and sympathetic a poet as ever discussed his art and his colleagues.
TOM STOPPARD, author of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, has written a first novel called LORD MALQUIST & MR. MOON (Knopf, $4.95). He is quoted as maintaining that the book is not a fantasy because “everything in it is possible.” It is true that bankrupt noblemen, homemade bombs, persons who believe themselves to be the Risen Christ, shooting unnoticed by the neighbors, and urban Europeans who dress up as cowpunchers are all individually possible, but when the lot of them converge in a single book, the result looks too like fantasy to be considered anything else. The story is told in a variety of styles, Pepysian, Boswellian, Heyer Regency (pastiche of a pastiche — how far can this game go?), and Victorian romantic being the most obvious. These tricks are held together by perfectly good modern prose and are used, with amusing ingenuity, to convey the visions that the principal characters see of themselves. The plot is merely the sad adventures of Mr. Moon, gentle victim of a disorderly world. Since the background of the ruckus seems to be Churchill’s funeral, one is tempted to assume that Mr. Stoppard laments the passing of certain antique virtues, but the action and attendant symbolic decorations are so ambiguous that he may instead be celebrating the birth of some new freedom. This uncertainty does not matter much, for the interest of the book lies primarily in Mr. Stoppard’s capacity for inventing unexpected but perversely logical episodes.
STEFAN THEMERSON’S TOM HARRIS (Knopf, $5.95) is another meaningful fantasy. It starts out like a thriller, with a nameless narrator scrabbling together old clues and gossip about what may or may not have been a murder. After this promising beginning, the book drifts into philosophizing about life and society and personal identity and what is called the generation gap (one feels these words should all be capitalized) and a general portentousness. All these matters finally arrive at stagnation rather than conclusion. It is disconcerting to start with Wilkie Collins and end with an unfunny Nichols and May act.
Fearing that it may naturally attract only meditative vegetarians, I want to recommend THE YOGI COOK BOOK (Crown, $3.50), by YOGI VITHALDAS and SUSAN ROBERTS. It is full of delightful oddities and should beguile even entrenched curry haters.
ONE FOR THE DEVIL (Houghton Mifflin, $4.95) is a sequel to Seven Days at the Silbersteins, and like that earlier novel by ETIENNE LEROUX, it is a fantastic parable of social and religious decay, so intricately constructed that serious purpose disappears under rococo ornament.
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