The Peripatetic Reviewer

by Edward Weeks
NUNAGA: Ten Years of Eskimo Life
by Duncan Pryde
Walker and Company, $7.95
Duncan Pryde was a skinny Scottish ex-sailor of eighteen when in 1955 he turned his back on Glasgow and headed for the barren lands of Canada. An orphan without home ties, he accepted the Hudson’s Bay Company offer of isolation and $135 a month and Nunaga is the story of his search for happiness as a fur trader in the Arctic. I should rate it the most realistic, rugged experience of living with the Eskimos to appear since Kabloona.
The Company broke him in with a three-year stint among the Cree and Ojibwa Indians in northern Manitoba; then at his own insistence in 1958 he was transferred to a solitary post in the Arctic, first to Baker Lake where he got his bearings, and then to the Copper Eskimos at Perry Island, where he was strenuously initiated into native life. The Eskimos at Perry were an unruly lot, known for their blood feuds and for their heavy drinking of a potent brew made from raisins, yeast, or of methyl hydrate added to a cup of tea. Now that they were on welfare, they did a minimum of trapping; they had already broken the spirit of two ineffectual traders, and with his Scottish persistence Pryde was determined to jack them up. He learned the language, and his description of the Eskimo vocabulary, with its twenty-five modifications of “snow,” its dozen terms for the various kinds of mud, and its one word for the hundreds of summer flowers, is a fine chapter. He found his allies; he trained, over three years, one of the best dog teams; and when in a showdown he beat the local bully, Uakuak, in a bloody night-long fight, he won the respect of the men and the affection of the women.
In the days before welfare there was a deliberate shortage of women: a male child would work for his parents and was welcome; a female, after the first daughter, was an encumbrance and was put out to freeze. This shortage, Pryde tells, was often the cause of the blood feuds, as it was of the “exchange-wife.” If a man liked you and you were a bachelor, he would offer you his wife even though all might be sleeping only inches apart on the bed platform in the snow-house. Eskimo women, the Scot tells us, are not for shy men, and they made him happy and a father.
He is very good on the Eskimo dogs, which to his regret are nowbeing replaced by snowmobiles. In the old days the dogs were indispensable to a hunter; they were also a drag—“having thirteen dogs is like having thirteen people to feed.” He scouts the idea that there is wolf blood in the pack. “Wolves,” he says, “don’t have the pulling power of an Eskimo dog.” Rabies are a dreaded contagion, and when the foxes infected the community at Perry Island, rabies wiped out a third of the two hundred and fifty dogs. As for the snowmobiles, Pryde quotes an Eskimo friend, “When the worst comes to the worst, have you ever tried eating a carburettor?” This book penetrates into the secret places of a primitive people, tells of their shamans, who are really faith healers, of their hardihood and generosity, and of their fundamental Northern traits-patience and acceptance.
by Michael Crichton
Knopf, $6.95
Michael Crichton, author of The Andromeda Strain and a doctor conversant with the spectacular development in brain surgery, has now written a novel quite terrifying in its suspense and implication. His subject is “mind control,” his situation what can happen in the neurological-surgical unit of a university hospital when a paranoid who has been wired with an implant to abort his seizures instead goes berserk.
Harold Franklin Benson, a computer scientist, was healthy until his thirty-third year, when he was involved in an automobile accident on the Santa Monica Freeway. Thereafter he suffered from blackouts preceded by peculiar, unpleasant odors; they often occurred after drinking and as they increased in frequency and duration, Benson would on regaining consciousness find himself with cuts, bruises, and torn clothing but with no recollection of what violence he had been party to. He had been divorced from his wife, and now his seizures cut him off from his remaining friends. A meek, pudgylooking man with a bewildered air, it did not seem possible that he could have beaten a garage mechanic to a pulp, as the police accused him of doing. The charges were dropped, but they unnerved Benson, and his outbreaks continued until, under police guard, he was brought to the neurosurgeons. They discovered that he was suffering from psychomotor epilepsy, vulnerable to thought seizures leading to violent spells; and that he had a mania about machines, which he believed would ultimately take over the world. He was reassured that the disease could be controlled and was started on a series of drug trials leading up to the operation.
Dr. Ellis is to perform this refinement of brain surgery, and the only one on his operating team with misgivings is Dr. Janet Ross. She argues that someone else could benefit more from the delicate implant and that Benson is too unstable to be saved. Ellis goes ahead with the operation in the full blaze of the theater, inserting the tiny electrode with its forty points pressing into the brain, one of which will trace the sources of the disturbance, and placing under the skin of Benson’s shoulder a power-packed computer, wired to the electrode, which will deliver an electric shock to abort the seizure. All done in an hour and forty minutes and the patient appears to be doing well.
No one seems to have anticipated that the stimulations might overload Benson, pushing him into seizures which were for a time agreeably sexual, but accelerated into monstrous violence, and that Benson in this condition, with his cleverness and his mania about machines, will not lie low for long. When he escapes into the maze of Los Angeles, the doctors, already tense, realize that neither talk nor police can turn off the implanted computer: Benson in his alternations between guile and frenzy is a demonic Frankenstein monster, and it is the search for him and his vengeance which make this story such a chiller.
The people are skillfully typed. The nurses supply the essential touch of humor, and the operation is as dramatic as the hunt. In contrast to the vanity and the overconfidence of the surgeons is Janet Ross, the only rounded character, a comely woman whose fatigue and whose fear of the electrically charged guinea pig the reader shares.
Letters between F. Scott Fitzgerald
and Harold Ober 1919-1940
edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli
Lippincott, $ 15.00
A literary agent has to be banker, editor, and broker for his clients, a relationship often leading to friendship, as was certainly the case with that tall, reserved New Englander Harold Ober, whose forthright devotion to his authors made him preeminent. Of the many writers he served, the one who tried him most was Scott Fitzgerald, and these letters are a monument to Ober’s patience and integrity.
They begin with Fitzgerald’s early stories, and they follow Scott through the flush years and the hard drinking; through the trips abroad and the life on Long Island when The Great Gatsby was being written. The prices of his short stories rose from $250 to $4000. Then with Zelda’s breakdown and the Depression, there comes the drying up of fertility, and the long struggle with Tender Is the Night. During this drear period Fitzgerald called on Ober for loans totaling $13,000, ultimately paid off, with his other debts, out of the $90,000 he hard-earned in Hollywood. But by then he had lost his magazine markets, and what was worse, his swift capacity for good sustained writing. When in 1939 Ober wrote that with two boys in college he could not afford to bank Scott in a new spiral, Fitzgerald severed their friendship in a letter that hurt them both. The sadness shows in a note from Fitzgerald to Max Perkins: “When Harold withdrew from the questionable honor of being my banker, I felt completely numb financially and I suddenly wondered what money was and where it came from. There had always seemed a little more somewhere and now there wasn’t.”
The correspondence is for business and without literary flavor, enlivened by an affectionate sketch of Ober by Fitzgerald’s daughter and by a touching note of gratitude from Zelda at the end.
by Joan Haslip
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $10.00
At first glance it would seem like beating a long-dead horse to have to push one’s way through Joan Haslip’s five-hundred-page biographical study of Maximilian and Carlota. One wonders what there is new to say about the pathetic Archduke with his grandiose ambitions, his extravagances, and his weak chin. But Miss Haslip has made an appealing case for the young man who may have been the illegitimate grandson of Napoleon, who was certainly the favorite son of his mother, the Archduchess Sophia, and who suffered all his life from living in the shadow of his older brother, that indomitable Emperor, Franz Josef of Austria.
As a boy growing up in the Schönbrunn, Max longed for warmth; his childhood dream was for “a castle with a garden by the sea”; he had an inquiring mind and a passionate love of nature, and had he not been a pawn of the monarchy, could happily have spent his life traveling and collecting. The author, whose last book was The Lonely Empress, a biography of Max’s sister-in-law, paints an accurate picture of the Austrian court in the days after Metternich, when the Empire was coming apart, and behind the glitter one sees the Spartan severity of Franz Josef and the intrigue of his ministers, for which Max was no match.
On the second of December, 1848, Franz Josef was crowned Emperor; both he and Max distinguished themselves in the fighting that put down the rebellion in Italy, but Max, with his consummate charm and his impulsive liberal tendencies, was not a handy man to have in Vienna. His conciliatory attitude toward the Hungarians was not appreciated, and it seemed discreet to send him down to Trieste for his baptism in the navy. He loved the sea, was liked by the officers, took an active part in modernizing the fleet, and then on a cruise to Madeira and Lisbon fell passionately in love with Maria Amalia, daughter of the former Emperor of Brazil. Had she lived, his life would certainly have been different; her death from consumption was the first of the many blights that shortened his career.
Upon his eventual marriage to the Belgian princess Charlotte, the attractive pair were sent to pacify Italy, and with their liberalism and free spending, they made a change. Max built, at great expense, Miramar, the castle he had been dreaming of, and here Charlotte was happy, if he was not. But his measures for moderation were always rejected in Vienna, the Emperor distrusted him, and when he was recalled, a Hapsburg without a throne, Max was dreaming of America as “the perfect asylum for those who, in Europe, want to break with the stormy past. . . .”
The luckless adventure in Mexico, inspired by Napoleon III, began auspiciously, with Maximilian, at last Emperor, fussing about his palaces, charmed by Cuernavaca, and underestimating his rugged, republican opponent Benito Juarez, who had the backing of the United States. “Carlota,” with whom Max was no longer in love, had the stronger will and was the better administrator, and in her loneliness it appears that she accepted a Belgian colonel as her lover. When the French troops were recalled, she, too, broke under the strain and returned to Europe. Max remained, struggling in his dream world; his last order received at Miramar was for two thousand nightingales, which were on their way to Mexico when he was captured. His Empire had lasted three years, and he was thirty-five when he faced the firing squad.
He had been reading the life of Charles I of England, and Max wrote in his diary before his execution, “He failed through weakness, but he had the opportunity if not to live well, at least to die well.”