FICTION TRAUMA AND ANGST
Two Against One Frederick Barthelme (Viking £12.95) Marital psychodrama (or jargon update on ‘the battle ofthe sexesz) is a bleak number. getting bleaker. Each gender has been accumulating ismi'ology data and it's all out there on lawns and pavements like bullets fired in the dark; some hitting. some not. So. some intense ravings on a designer marriage. or ‘trial sep.’ from Frederick Barthelme in "Two Against One from the point ofview of the walking wounded: those who peer under the bandages. not trusting anything to heal. These are. in order of appearance: husband Edward (soothed by the sound of refridgerators). wife Elise (trying to get with the programme). friend Roscoe (traumatised and sexless); friend Lurleen (a fat-is-a~feminist loser) and friend Kinta (a sympathetic nymphomaniac).
Most Americans would instantly recognise this as a ‘stress experience'. and thus catalogued. as something with the same degree of impact as an early morning delivery ofmilk. Yet squeezing painful emotions to the surface hardly seems to resolve them any better than holding back. This aspect alone provides both the book's tight structure and its dark entertainment value. a sort of game show with real cyanide pellets. The actual complexity ofone relationship. ditched and returned to after 20 years. is sifted with almost manic perception. Dialogue between contestants is terse yet bitingly garrulous. and grips you in parts you‘d prefer were less tenuous. ()h. and you’ll need some clean air in your lungs after it's over. ((‘hris Lloyd)
GIL AND EMMA
Emma Who Saved My Life Wilton Barnhardt (Simon and Shuster. £1 1 .95). limmu Who Saved My Life documents the sporadic memoirs of
with striving painter Lisa and
narrator Gil. in the ten years following his 197-1 move to New York (an attempt to realise his acting aspirations) and his relationships
anguished poet Emma.
Emma is (iil's obsession in life. infiltratingall he does. Intelligent but with an anarchic streak. her ritualistic celibacy. drug- experimentation. manufactured crises and neurosis. gradually make her a liability. ller lack ofself-belief and drive is infuriating but the narrative does serve to expose and rationalise this as a common human failing. to be experienced by all at some point.
In the ten-year period. a host of colourful. diverse fringe characters cut into their lives. often best captured in sharp recollections of social occasions. Politics also. play an important. if latent part in the characters‘ lives. their tendencies becoming clear from reading between the lines of bizarre opinions and idiosyncracies. With the dynamic American political scene and concurrent changes in the social structure of New York. the goals and
circumstances ofeach character are
Consumer culture. the rise and coming-oi-age of the teenager and the birth of rock ‘n' roll, mass TV, sitcoms and pop: all are charted in ‘Somethin' Else: 503 Life and Style'. Published by Richard Drew at£15.95.
seen to change also.
In places it is an overlong novel and would benefit from condensation and a snappier pace. However. it is an enlightening fictional biography. not ofthe jet-set or the unbelievably tragedy-ridden but of credible. everyday people. which conversely makes it all the more engaging. (Susan Mackenzie)
SPURS AND STRIPES
I We Are Still Married Garrison Keillor (Faber £1 1 .99) Yee-haw and giddy-yup. Garrison Keillor rounds up his latest herd of mid-west musings and brings them in. lassoed together by ‘suth’n‘ vowels and gulping glotterals. The mock-heroic cowboy writer is much in evidence: ‘A writer's duty is to keep trying. to wake up every afternoon and saddle up the mare and bear the sacred plume rle literature over the next ridge‘. Needless to say. the nostril-ﬂaring steed has turned into a typist‘s chair and the quick—draw Colt 45 is inevitably a wecdy pen.
Keillor ranges far and wide over his subjects — vignettes on the porch. apple pies. the scene of a burst water hydrant. the sneeze. poems on the independence ofsoeks. peeing and Finns who don't like saunas. There is also a clutch of homespun Lake Wobegon tales. largely reprinted from The New Yorker and all delivered in the familiar slow. understated style.
True to form. Keillor successfully parodies life on the lonesome. hieksville trail and the hoary machismo ofthe cowboy. whilst brilliantly re-creating and evoking
the atmosphere of the mid-west where smalltown events are writ large. (Tina Allan)
DESERT, WITH OCCASIONAL MIRAGE
I A Question of Loyalties Allan Massie ((‘entury I lutchinson £12.95) A dry. emotionally-crippled. middle-aged man relates the life of his father. Lucien de Balafre. whose high ideals excluded him from the actual business of living. The former. stunted by an unfulfilled teenage love-affair. scrutinises documents. diaries and the memories of others for the explanations and justications of his father's collaboration with the Nazis in war-torn France.
Lucien. thinking himself noble. seems easily led by the intermediary Vichy government to which he pledges loyalty. Only when thrown into self-doubt does he take on a human dimension.
Both subject and narrator. then. are raspingly parched — both are so preoccupied with the fine. theoretical points of mistaken loyalty. that they miss the blood and emotional guts of human life. As a result. the book is an arid though accomplished read. in which historical detail and the high-browed analysis of nationalism and idealism snuffout the potential for more vital characterisation. ()verall. the novel‘s story-line is obvious. as are the unnecessary ramblings on the deceptive nature of biography and autobiography. (Kristina Woolnough)
BLACK MOUNTAINS B.C.
People of the Black Mountains Vol I.- 'l'lze Beginning Raymond Williams ((‘hatto 6'; Windus £13.95). Williams died in 1988. leaving an enormous manuscript that became. thanks to the efforts of his wife Joy. People of Ilit’ Black .llnunlalns‘.
This first volume relates the history of Williams‘ native Black Mountain country. frotn the rudimentary life of the hunters. circa 23(11)B(‘. until the battles of Roman conquest around the time of(‘hrist.
We are led through these millennia by a series of episodes — speculative stories that flesh out the bare assertions of academic history. Instead of a dry footnote in a textbook about the arrival ofsimple pastorialism (34110130 or thereabouts). Williams gives us a little drama with baffled hunters seeing domesticated ‘game' for the first time.
58The List 15 -- 28-September 1989