Criticism
Review: Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood Print E-mail

catseye(San Diego Tribune February 17, 1989)

Poignant Confession

One among many achievements of Margaret Atwood's new novel is that it is possible to unveil much this poignant story offers without giving away its heart.

Once touched, this heart seems boundless, a cup running over, a spring capable of repeated renewals.

Big-hearted with a big B. To read it is also to sense the work as a blueprint for living, a sort of prayer book disguised as a novel.

Atwood has written a magnificent confession about a woman at midlife finding herself while forgiving the self she thought she was. But more, her novel seems to model a voice that best expresses anyone's painful search for an unfettered, cleansed self.

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Review: Other People's Myths by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty Print E-mail

doniger(San Diego Tribune January 27, 1989)

Something Is A Myth Here

Yes, I know, Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty is the first Mircea Eliade Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago. And yes, her new book demonstrates vast knowledge of the esoteric and common myths of world religions. But all the pomp doesn't quite support the pulpit. Missing in this hard-to-read treatise is the most elusive trait any scholar-writer can possess—simplicity.

Communicating one's knowledge takes writing that is clear, focused and taut, with a recognizable purpose. The range of erudition here is immense: Hindu, Greek, Jewish, Christian myths and rituals, and everything else in between: Freud-Jung-Homer-Plato-Jesus-Krishna-Woody Allen; fish-deer-goats-horses-dogs; gods-film-mind-madness-orality-sacrifice-transubstantiation-orthopraxy. Add to this unmanageable vista a problem with directness.

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Review: Dancing at the Edge of the World by Ursula K. Le Guin Print E-mail

DancingAtTheEdgeOfTheWorld(Brick 38 1989)

Into the Oak Brush

What is certain for Ursula K. Le Guin is that non-fictional writing presents her with a too terrible certainty. How can anything be understood fully, she argues, through the father’s voice (nonfiction—the critical, authoritarian tongue); only the mother’s voice (fiction—the relational, engaged tongue) can speak truly of experience. A writer like Le Guin—most of whose thirty books are fiction—expresses ideas and experiences with her natural voice, with the yielding uncertainty of fiction or poetry, the language she calls “a carrier bag . . . for people who don’t understand.” Cut off and adrift from fiction in these essays, she aches for the creative and despairs over the analytic. A recurring theme is her reluctance to write them at all.

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Review: Grey Is the Color of Hope by Irina Ratushinskaya Print E-mail

irina(San Diego Tribune November 4, 1988)

A Soviet Poet's Prison Memoir

When we speak of human rights records, we talk of one country's violations and another's gross violations.

Remembering recent atrocities, we know too well that the denial of rights in Cambodia and the denial of rights in the Philippines are not the same; we distinguish wisely between murder and torture on one hand and economic neglect on the other. But how are we to judge the grossly hypocritical violators, those who insure the right of food, job, housing and medicine to all, but disallow rights to political dissenters? A clue emerges in "Grey Is the Color of Hope," a prison memoir written by a young Soviet poet, Irina Ratushinskaya, that exposes the gross hypocrisy of her country's human rights policies.

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Review: Tolstoy: The Ultimate Reconciliation by Martine de Courcel Print E-mail

0897265(San Diego Tribune September 9, 1988)

Tolstoy: The Man and the Legend

Martine de Courcel, a French psychologist and biographer known previously for writing a life of Andre Malraux, has produced an epic study of the Russian writer and religious thinker Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy. Her production is masterly in its explication and fascinating in its revelations.

Published in France in 1980, the work appears now in a flawless translation by Peter Levi. This book is a journey through Tolstoy's intellectual and spiritual development.

It is also an exhaustive trip through 19th century Czarist Russia, Tolstoy's marriage of 48 years to the indomitable Sofia (whom he called Sonya), the history of his family estate and the writing of the novels "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina," not to mention the revolt of the peasants, the rise of Lenin and the impact of Tolstoyism. De Courcel's biography, however, is not an attempt to write history via one exemplary life.

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Review: Writin' Is Fightin' by Ishmael Reed Print E-mail

Ishmael_Reed(San Diego Tribune August 26, 1988)

Pounding Away at Racism

White writers write. Black writers write. But black writers fight. The difference?

The opponent: racism.

Or, to put it his way: "Ethnic life in the United States has become a sort of contest like baseball in which the blacks are always the Chicago Cubs." Watch out—here comes Ishmael Reed, boxing his way through the color consciousness of white America with Writin' Is Fightin'.

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Review: Inventing the Abbotts by Sue Miller Print E-mail

inventing(Written January 1988)

An Etherized Fiction for the 1980s

I will hazard a guess outright: Sue Miller’s Inventing the Abbotts should receive oodles of good press. Critics will be enthralled by these stories, recalling the praise they ladled on Miller’s novel, The Good Mother, a few years back, and here again they will be taken by the skillful weave of psychoanalysis, sex, and middle-class angst, not to mention the pithy dialogue and narrative clarity of the pieces.

Reviewers, I imagine, will applaud how authentic Miller portrays the world of relationships between men and women in the 1980s. Many will re-live turbulent scenes from our lives with divorced parents, the children we over-protected during our own break-ups, or the nights wasted, prowling bars blindly for love. Men will wince, women will nod, young readers (if any) may flip to the “good parts.” (There are few of those.)

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