FICTION GOLDEN EAGLE
I A Boomful of Birds: Scottish Short Stories 1990 (Collins £12.95) The gremlins ofsexual politics. religious guilt-trips and class consciousness surreptitiously riot through this latest collection ofworks by authors of (occasionally highly tenuous) Scottish roots. Whether this is indicative of the Scottish psyche is debatable but it certainly provides conversation for an anthropologist's dinner party.
Potential hang-ups aside. the quality ofwriting is impressive. Gold stars all round. not only for the old hands. but also for the budding infants of the game. With a striking display of rampant imaginations, A Room fit! of Birds serves up some highly original. occasionally bizarre, scenarios and plots. which amazingly. do not lose the reader in their own self-importance but hold the attention and the comprehension ofeven the most sluggish brain.
A perfect summer companion for those who fancy a bit ofclass to accompany the sand in their sandwiches. (Susan Mackenzie)
I Wildlife Richard Ford (Collins Harvill £12.50 hardback, £6.95 paperback) A book set in the North Western states of the USA. this is the story of a young boy whose mother falls in love with a fat businessman called Warren. His father. understandably miffed. goes offto face certain death fighting forest fires. Apart from that, nothing much else happens.
We see the mysterious shenanigans ofthe adults through the uncomprehending eyes of the boy. This device works well. and we are made to understand what it is the adults are up to without being told explicitly.
Having said that. though this is a well-written book. with some wonderful descriptive passages it is. ultimately. just ashade tedious. It is similar in tone to Garrison Keillor. but without the jokes. (lain Grant)
COFFEE TABLE CLASS
I Joseph Crawhall - One of the Glasgow Boys Vivien Hamilton (John Murray, £30) Joseph Crawhall never had a big part in the Glasgow Boys’ sweeping popularity, initially because he worked in watercolour,
9G The List 10— 16 August 1990
Lisa Alther’s Bedrock kicks the gut of the female stereotype with a gritty humour. A bitter, gentle and at times intensely funny exploration of the female psyche and its outward bounds, Bedrock is a product of Alther's unwillingness to relax into the strait-jacket of critical acclaim which Kinflicks, heriirst novel, brought her.
Betraying her Virginian upbringing with a quiet drawl hardened by a touch of northern soul, Alther laughs at my attempts to categorise what she terms her ‘black grotesque humour'. ‘1 seem to have inherited the southern tragl-comic view of life,’ she explains, ‘which is bound up with its awareness of having fought and lost a war on its own territory.’ As such, Bedrock is riddled with discomiiting, offbeat observations and endearing eccentricities which produce a laugh with a thorny underside.
As in Kinflicks, ‘an examination of the stereotypes that society tried to get young women to conform to in the 50s,’ Alther again flicks through a wardrobe of female roles with comic perceptiveness. Bedrock whirls us into the perfume-scented world of Clea Shawn, a successful freelance photographer, whose rose-tinted lens, once her means of survival in a nasty world, gradually tightens to a suffocating blackness in her menopausal years. A foil to Clea's naivety, her closest friend Elke is a child of Nazi Germany; daughter oi an alcohol-saturated corpse of a mother, and Hitler’s would-be assassin. who was hanged for his trouble. A
sculptress, Elke creates images of bayonetted babies to complement Clea's rural Edens. Unlikely soulmates, the two women struggle wilfully in a relationship which verges on physical longing, regardless of incompatibilities and exclusive of husbands.
Aware of Alther's reputation as a ‘feminist’ writer, I ask her if she regards herself as a woman writing for women; a suggestion which she ducks with practised agility: ‘So much has been written by men about men, leaving the female mind a relatively unexplored territory. in my personal life I am a feminist. However, I do not write from any political point of view. I have a real allergy to party lines. I’m glad if women read my stuff and find it accurate, but a lot of men do too. A real shift is going on right now in gender roles and both sexes need to make the shift,’ she insists. ‘The important thing
is that people be allowed to make choices. It doesn't seem to me that one thing is better than the other‘.
Bedrock attacks male assumptions about female sexuality by means of the . most effective weapon: wit. Alther charts Clea’s increasing disillusionment with her mutually adulterous marriage and its impetuous but hollow side-kick sessions, with a characteristically honest humour- ‘Some men get a little nervous about a humorous attitude to sex, and the detatchment that most men don't realise that women have. A lot about sex is veryfunny’.
Bedrock is gently erotic in its portrayal of Clea and Elke's love-hate affair, conducted on a mental no-man's land which lies between their bi-polar worlds. Their eventual stumbling into one another’s arms after twenty years of friendship is indicative of Alther’s constant grappling with the possibility of uniting the seemingly irreconcilable. A southern hick cum northern sophisticate, with a foot in each culture, Alther throws into her melting pot of American life the most potent of ingredients.
Clea's rural idyll, Roches Ridge. is polluted by an urban overflow of psychopaths, born-again fanatics, a lesbian tepee commune and a disembodied foot. Thus Alther verges on the stereotypical, even whilst rejecting it. ‘It seems to me that most people are pretty bizarre. The veneer of civilised people is very thin,‘ she explains, insisting on the peculiarity of everyday life. With an exceptional capacity to amuse and disturb, Bedrock strips away this bufferzone, revealing humanity’s absurd undercurrents. (Kathleen Morgan)
Bedrock by Lisa Alther is published by Viking, priced £13.99.
which was not felt to be a prestigious medium and because he was not at all a prolific artist. A meticulous perfectionist he destroyed most of his work. Those pictures which did survive his rigorous criticism were snapped up, hot off the easel, by a small group of Scottish collectors who were quick to see his talent — William Burrell, whose large collection of Crawhall. is on show at the moment, was prepared to pay considerably more for a Crawhall than the going rate for a Degas. This book’s real strength is in its fantastic reproductions. Vivien Hamilton has done a good job on very little material but, while her "
writing is thorough. it never sparks. and sometimes it feels as ifshe is simply filling the space between illustrations. It is. nonetheless. a book to raise the standard of any self-respecting coffee table. (Miranda France)
I Glasgow Herald People‘s Prize for Fiction The short leet for this year's £5000 prize is: James Kelman A Disaffection. Allan Massie A Question of Loyalty. Eric McCormack The Paradise Motel. Carl McDougall Stone Over Water.
William Mcllvanney Walking Wounded and ('andia MeWilliam A Little Stranger. Library Readers all over Scotland are invited to cast their votes with ballot forms and extra copies of the shortlisted books are available from your local library. Closing date 31 Aug.
I Waterstones 114 George Street.
Sal11 1—2pm. Julian Clary will be signing copies of My Life with Fanny the Wonder Dog (Papermac £14.99) and ( ‘omies — A Decade of Comedy
at The Assembly Rooms (Papermac £9.99). Q