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Brief Reviews
by Phoebe-Lou Adams

The Birthday Boys

by Beryl Bainbridge.

Carroll & Graf, 192 pages, $18.95.

Ms. Bainbridge, whose novels are usually set in solidly familiar British circumstances, has made a daring leap into remote terrain. Her latest novel is a first-person reconstruction of the characters and experiences of the men who died with Robert Scott in Antarctica. There are four of them: Edgar Evans, the large, efficient, hard-drinking Welsh petty officer; Edward Wilson, the soft-hearted doctor and amateur painter; Henry Bowers, game for anything; and Lawrence Oates, the cavalry officer who can never quite forgive Scott for his folly in the purchase of ponies. Finally there is Scott himself, understandably burdened by worries, touchy about his authority, and inclined to daydream about his wife. Each man describes a different portion of the expedition, and it is impressive that Ms. Bainbridge has achieved the effect of individual voices without sacrificing her own elegant style. Evans, who opens the novel, gives a polished account of the farewell celebrations but somehow remains his slambang self. Scott reports events midway and unknowingly reveals his tendency to blame difficulties on anything but his own misjudgment. Oates, a sometimes supercilious observer because he sees his navy companions as an alien breed, winds up the deadly retreat from the Pole. The novel is a successful blending of historical fact and imaginative interpretation, a grim story told with sympathy and skill.

American Indian Lacrosse

by Thomas Vennum Jr.

Smithsonian, 376 pages, $44.95 and $15.95.

Mr. Vennum tells more about lacrosse play than anyone but a fan of the game is likely to wish to know, but he also provides information about the Indian rituals, beliefs, and maneuvers surrounding it which will interest anyone with a regard for Native American history. Indian lacrosse was called the "little brother of war," and was used, on occasion, for political chicanery and military deception. It was also the basis of much wagering, to the outrage of missionaries who took their usual curious approach to attracting converts: if the heathen enjoy it, make them stop. Mr. Vennum's factual material is interspersed with fictionalized versions of certain events, an odd arrangement abandoned once the author gets to the shameful account of how whites, having learned a fine game from the Indians, conspired to drive their teachers off the field.

Now You See Her

by Whitney Otto.

Villard, 320 pages, $20.00.

Kiki, the heroine of Ms. Otto's novel, is a fact researcher who, as a whimsical extension of her work, asks her mother and two female friends for a list of what they most want. They all begin with love, which should warn the reader that there is a woman's-plight discussion in prospect. It is, however, a good one, in which such stock characters as the patiently invisible mistress, the lonely widow, the dutiful subordinate, and the wary bystander become believable people whose problems deserve attention even when self-created.

Abduction: Human Encounters With Aliens

by John E. Mack, M.D.

Scribner's, 448 pages, $22.00.

Dr. Mack is a professor of psychiatry at the Cambridge Hospital, Harvard Medical School. For the past several years he has conducted interviews, reinforced by recollections induced through hypnotism, with people who believe that they have been abducted by nonhuman creatures, subjected to experiments (usually sexual), and advised that humanity is destroying the earth through greedy exploitation of the environment and had better stop doing that. Dr. Mack has been unable to detect any signs of mental derangement in his interviewees, and because their reports have so much in common, he has come--to his own surprise--to believe that what they say happened really did. This is hardly what one expects from the Harvard Medical School. The author provides little peripheral information about his abductees, but what there is reveals that most of them come from religious denominations with reputations--deserved or not--for sexual severity and emotional enthusiasm, and their ages range from twenty-two to fifty-five, which means that all of them grew up in the age of the UFO. Readers with even a superficial acquaintance with science fiction in any medium will experience spasms of deja vu in the descriptions of the abductees' adventures. It is also notable that concern for the environment was a preoccupation of Dr. Mack's before he undertook to investigate abductions, and that he is not entirely certain what influence he, as hypnotist, may have exercised on his subjects. Whatever one may think of his report as a whole, one can hardly quarrel with the author's claim that something happened to these people and that it would be well to discover, if possible, what that was. The book certainly offers the enticing possibility of debate unencumbered by fact.

The Stranger Wilde

by Gary Schmidgall.

Dutton/William Abrahams, 400 pages, $24.95.

The author examines the works of Oscar Wilde as an expression of resentment at the social restrictions imposed on homosexuals, and finds enough double meanings and symbolic motifs to support his contention that Wilde attempted, if not always quite consciously, to incite rebellion against the discriminatory status quo. If Mr. Schmidgall is correct (and it is not hard to believe that he is), Wilde had more courage than common sense--but that is no new view of Oscar. The precision of Mr. Schmidgall's evidence is new.

Ancient Land: Sacred Whale

by Tom Lowenstein.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 189 pages, $20.00.

Mr. Lowenstein, a British poet and ethnographer, has spent twenty years studying the songs, history, and beliefs of the whale hunters of Tikigaq (otherwise known as Point Hope, Alaska). Out of this research he has created a combination of expository prose, translated native poetry, and his own poetry in the Tikigaq style. His book provides a lively view of a world with unfamiliar aspects, some bloody, some endearing. The spring whale hunt, for instance, requires new clothes and gear annually, for whales are fastidious and much offended by dirt and disorder.

Copyright © 1995 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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