Short Reviews: Books

Fifteen brief book reviews

The Ruined Map, by Kobo Abé. Knopf, $5.95. Translated from the Japanese by E. Dale Saunders. All Mr. Abé’s novels derive from a preoccupation with masks, disguises, and lost or uncomprehended identities, but each book explores the mysterious fragility of individual personality in a different and unexpected way. This time, Mr. Abé presents a private detective who when hired to trace a missing man gets mislaid himself. The tale is grimly ambiguous, the writing frequently amusing, the book as a whole both distinguished and pleasurable.
Great Spy Stories From Fiction, edited by Allen Dulles. Harper & Row, $6.95. Since the interest of a spy novel hangs on the whole pattern of the action, as Mr. Dulles knows perfectly well, because he discusses the matter in his introduction, a chapter from this and that adds up to scrapbasketry.
When the Saints Go Marching Out, by Charles Merrill Smith. Double day, $4.95. Short lives of the saints, with edifying lessons drawn from the same, the whole thing so relentlessly jocose that it nauseates.
Stow Wengenroth's New England, With Notes and Observations, by David McCord. Barre, $12.50. Mr. Wengenroth is a superb lithographer whose seemingly realistic portrayals of coast, houses, boats, and owls imply something beyond realism, or at least, unaccountable as realism. Mr. McCord’s sympathetic comments range from high philosophy to lowish mischief. This is a most charming book.
Two Dreisers, by Ellen Moers. Viking, $10.00. Not an accusation of schizophrenia, but a minute examination of Theodore Dreiser’s methods of composition in Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy. Miss Moers has considered neglected sources and has traced the origin of certain of Dreiser’s ideas as well as details of action and setting. What she is never able to explain is Dreiser’s habit, amounting to compulsion, of wanting to see all his materials in print before reworking them into a novel—a trick that led, in the case of Carrie, to accusations of plagiarism. Literary detective work can be dull, but Miss Moers makes it lively and absorbing.
Cowboys Don't Cry, by L.J.Davis. Viking, $5.95. Mr. Davis is clever at writing the scene in which the inept human worm gets trodden. Presumably it is the only scene he has so far learned to write, for it recurs in every chapter of this foolishly repetitious novel.
Long Drums and Cannons, by Margaret Laurence. Praeger, $5.95. Miss Laurence’s study of the work of Nigerian playwrights and novelists is very useful for any reader seriously interested in the subject, for she concentrates on the myths, ideas, and devices which these writers have retained from African tradition.
The Empress Brown, by Tom Cullen. Houghton Mifflin, $6.95. There was much scandal mumbled about Queen Victoria and John Brown, the Scottish retainer she kept underfoot after Albert’s death, all of it, according to Mr. Cullen, groundless. Admirers of Victoria will be pleased; other readers may find the book much ado about little.
This Child's Gonna Live, by Sarah E. Wright. Delacorte, $5.95. The heroine of this novel is poor, ignorant, black, and desperately ambitious for a better life for her children. Because the author is honest not only about the woman’s miseries but about her disorganized foolishness, the novel arouses less sympathy than the situation in fact deserves.
The Other City, by Ray Vogel. David White, $4.95. Mr. Vogel teaches in a New York ghetto school where four unscholarly boys, turned loose with cameras, proved to be sharply observant pictorial reporters. Their pictures and short comments form a poignant, revealing description of childhood in the slums.
The Realms of Arthur, by Helen Hill Miller.Scribner’s, $8.95. Practically everything worth knowing about the results of the recent campaign of Arthur-hunting is assembled here and presented clearly, gracefully, and unpretentiously. Maps and an intriguing variety of illustrations.
The Long Pursuit, by Richard Hough. Harper & Row, $5.95. As naval battles go, the destruction of the German East Asiatic squadron in 1914 was a main strength and awkwardness affair, and Mr. Hough has been unable to alter its uninspired character.
Henry James: The Treacherous Years, by Leon Edel. Lippincott, $8.50. With the fifth and final volume soon to come, Mr. Edel approaches the end of this monumental work with no lessening of energy or interest.
Notes From the Century Before, by Edward Hoagland.Random House, $6.95. Poking around British Columbia in 1966, Mr. Hoagland talked with homesteaders who still live on moose meat, men who had carried the mail by dogsled, prospectors who had joined every gold rush since the Yukon. He found these people to be a varied lot, with little in common except a taste for open space and that air of innocence (often as not deceptive) that comes from living a thousand miles clear of city smog. Patient, inquisitive, ruefully candid about his stuttering deficiencies as an interviewer, Mr. Hoagland builds up an extensive, vivid picture of place and people, and like all good travel writers, makes the reader want to start right out over his tracks.
The Victims, by Bernard Lefkowitz and Kenneth G. Gross. Putnam, $6.95. Because the murders of Janice Wylie and Emily Hoffert—what was called the career-girls murder—have never been solved with total, satisfying certainty, the history of the case carefully compiled by Mr. Gross and Mr. Lefkowitz remains inconclusive. Inconclusiveness, in fact, is the point of the book. Directing their attention to police and legal procedure, the authors unravel the alternately interlocking and conflicting elements of proper detective work, private ambition, and casual bigotry which, in the end, loused up the investigation. One cop asked, “Is anybody normal?” The reader asks, “Is justice possible?”