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The Cincinnati Enquirer from Cincinnati, Ohio • Page 106

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Cincinnati, Ohio
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THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRERSunday, September 27, 1981 F-ll We Need Clear Look At The 1980 Election Writing Is Third Career For Morrison BLUE SMOKE AND MIRRORS, by Jack W. Ger-mond and Jules Witcover, Viking, $14.95. THE REAGAN REVOLUTION, by Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, Dutton, $12.75. I BY JOHN KING Entertainment Reporter The late A.J. Leibling, a writer for BY ELLEN BROWN Entertainment Reporter Listening to Toni Morrison is as hyptnotic as reading one of her novels.

Her elegant use of language, carefully articulated in a soft, melodic voice, is as powerful in an interview as on the pages of her books. When she speaks she captivates. She is articulate when she speaks about abstractions such as the meaning of creativtt.v t.h art tirely different level; it was almost by administrative fiat. We only had one high school and everybody had to go there, and we all met at the same stores and on the same relief lines. At the same time, we all had our own social halls and churches and the spiritual nurturing came from within the family." And this sense of nurturing, and making her feel important as a family member is now crucial to her work, she said.

"Reading was very important and my family told me stories and asked what I'd dreamed. It made me feel good that they cared about my dreams. "And the radio was important to me; I had to work very hard and had to supply everything and create all the visuals so my mind was always clicking, it was a constant mode of Invention." MORRISON TRACES her. entry into the writing field to the political climate of the late 1960s as well as her own desires. Until that time "a pattern can been created because men dominated the art.

But only with the political activism of the '60s were black women able to realize more clearly and simply what an enormous contribution they had always made. "From a literary point of view men wrote from a male posture, usually a posture of confrontation. But the women didn't put themselves in competition with male white writers; their work is generally personal and subjec TONI MORRISON president. They explain and dismiss it in less than one paragraph: "(He) would have provided a short-term boost and long-term grief as a running mate who thought himself superior to the presidential candidate. That catastrophe was averted in the Detroit negotiations when Ford and his agents went too far in demanding a share of presidential power." Blue Smoke and Mirrors, on the other hand, devotes most of a chapter to the "Detroit negotiations:" It was the Reagan camp that pressed the issue in the weeks before the convention.

Ford repeatedly turned down the offer of a vice-presidency, but Reagan, his supporters, and Henry Kissinger and Alan Greenspan kept reviving the idea. This is Germond and Witcover at their best: Examining in minute detail certain dramatic parts of the campaign. Similar attention is given to Ted Kennedy's interview with with Roger Mudd and the details of the final campaign weekend, and the results are engrossing. 1 NOT THAT this comes as a surprise. No matter how long and drawn-out presidential campaigns might be, they make first-rate reading material.

Every election since 1960 (the first Making ot the President, by Theodore White) has produced an excellent book, Including Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail mi Wit-cover's own Marathon, on the '76 campaign. Blue Smoke is not 1980's great book. Besides problems of objectivity, the book ignores the pace and slow buildup of the campaign ist; she is equally articulate when she discusses her own work, a task difficult for an artist in any discipline. Last week's trip to Cincinnati, her first, was to speak to the annual meeeting of the Ohio Arts Council.

Morrison is one of a handful of black female novelists whose work developed and found Critical acclaim during the 1970s. She published The Bluest Eye in 1970; Sula, her second novel, was nominated for the National Book Award in 1974; Song ot Solomon won the National Book Critics Circle Award when it was published in 1977. Her fourth novel, Tar Baby, was published this year. WRITING IS the third thread to develop in Morrison's professional life. She began teaching after receiving her master's degree from Cornell, and has been a book editor for more than 15 years.

But she didn't begin to write until the late 1960s. "Writing to- me is an advanced and slow form of reading. If you find a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. "It took me a long time to do a short book; a long time to leave the world of language and the building up and shaping of the book, but once it began to float I knew I could not not do it and I also knew that writing would always be the thing that made it possible to do those other things I do." Morrison said the imagery in much of her writing is derived from her childhood in Lorain, Ohio, near Cleveland. "I have selective recollections of childhood.

That's very much a part of what an artist does. "LORAIN WAS a steel mill town with little wooden houses and so many people from so many places who were first generation immigrants. It was a workers' town, even a company town, and it had the best and worst of what this country has to offer. "All of the books seem different to me also. It's the style which is consistent.

"This was not done from a conscious desire to explore different ideas and let the lan-guge support them. It was an act ofliscovery each time and with each book." MORRISON IS not working on the next book now. She's still thinking through where she is moving as a writer-while maintaining her careers as the senior editor at Random House, a lecturer at Bard College and the mother of two teen-age boys. Because of Morrison's track record, she knows she could devote all her time to writing; but she, has not chosen to do so. "Being a Depression child I never want to be dependent on my writing for my family's money.

If I know the mortgage is dependent on a book I'd be suspicious of my work. I'd love to write a book everyone hated but I loved, and I wouldn't be able to do that if there was a chance my children would be lacking something as a result. "I pay a terrific price, but there's some quality of isolation in writing that can make you isolated. Editing and teaching make you think in a different way." For Toni Morrison, the thread which unites the disparate components of her Jife is language. tive.

It was profound, but in a quieter way and didn't have a stridency to it." This quiet style characterizes Morrison's work, but her subject matter has changed with each book. Her first book was written through the eyes of children looking at the cruelties of the adult world; her second book centered on female friendship. "Men seem to have friends and women had confidantes who helped them get or get rid of a man, but they didn't enhance each other's lives until recently." SONG OF Solomon sprang from the intense mourning she experienced after the death of her father. "I was lonely in a way I had never been lonely before and a male became the center character when I began to wonder what it was my father knew about those people." Tar Baby is another departure from the emotional context of the preceding books; the plot involves fully etched characters from almost every social background, revealing the conflicts and dangers of each situation, focusing on the love relationship of two blacks raised in different social milieus. the New Yorker during the '40s, '50s and early '60s, had a low opinion of news columnists.

He called them "The Oracles of Mars," and wrote that "The expert, however estimable as a vaudeville turn or pere de lamille, becomes a national menace when he is substituted for the reporters." While Leibling was perhaps overly skeptical, his observation is worth noting. Washington-based columnists give readers a steady flow of information about happenings in that city but it is information they are commenting on, and private opinion is mixed in with the hard news. This tendency spills over into the books they write. Both of these books (written by columnist teams which appear In The Enquirer) are designed to provide a behind-the-scenes narrative of recent political events, yet both are so colored by the authors' political views they resemble extended columns more than pieces of objective, analytical history. EACH BOOK has been researched by going to the men and women involved in what took place.

For Blue Smoke and Mirrors, their report on the 1980 presidential campaign, Jack Germond and Jules Witcover interviewed almost everyone who played a role in the election. For The Reagan Revolution, a history of Reagan's political career and a study of his political philosophy, Rowland Evans and Robert Novak relied heavily on discussions with people inside the current administration, and in fact end the book with a 13-page interview with President Reagan. Though the books contain much of value, and make good reading, both are very judgmental and should be approached with caution. Evans and Novak, for instance, write of how George Bush was "devoured" in his Nashau, N.H., debate with Reagan; how non-supply-side economic models of the 1970s were always "hideously or how the Agriculture Department's food supplement program to women and children was enacted in an atmosphere "typifying the careless stampede toward the welfare state." IN PRETENDING to analyze what the Reagan Revolution is (reducing the government's role in social reform, balancing the budget and implementing budget cuts, abandoning progressive taxation), they do their best to discredit every other economic or political Idea. The issue here Is not how accurate economic models have been it is the question of boiling down complicated issues into one-liners.

Another example occurs when Evans and Novak, In their recap of the 1980 campaign, mention the push to make Gerald Ford vice- "People in New York can't conceive or the kind of black life we had in a small Midwestern town. Whatever was racist was at an en 'Life On Mississippi' Is Retold For Today OLD GLORY: AN AMERICAN VOYAGE, by Jonathan tell you, It's like passing gas into the head. They go crazy on it Raban, Simon and Schuster, $16.95. In all, Raban paints more than 300 portraits of people possessed by their own private pursuits. BY JON SAARI Enquirer Contributor Raban spent most of his on-shore time in the bars and churches.

The son and grandson of Angli to concentrate on Carter and Reagan. A campaign is like a horse-race: The best part is often the beginning, when lots of candidates are lining up for the prize and dozens of "what if abound. There is little of that here. Kennedy's candidacy is examined at length, but the flock of early Republican candidates are nothing more than a backdrop for Reagan's successes. The primaries are almost skipped over.

Even John Anderson is given just one brief chapter. WHAT DO we get instead? Scores of fascinating anecdotes, a vivid retelling of the parries and thrusts of the final months, and some sharp observations. Since 1960 media people have come to play a near-dominant role in electioneering, yet the 1980 election swung on events beyond the media's reach: The Iranian crisis, Carter's economic record and the lingering effects of the Chappaquiddick incident. In the end all went against Carter, who, Germond and Witcover write, "had the votes, but he lacked the broad base of affection and respect that is any politician's most prized asset." British author Jonathan Raban read Mark Twain's Huckleberry can parsons and an agnostic, Raban found preachers promot ing their own prejudices and Americans drinking away their rage. But if Raban needed a drink after leaving the river, he also needed a sermon on Sunday.

NEAR THE end of his journey, Raban met a seasoned sailor who said he shakes for hours after leaving the Mississippi and can't get its image out of his mind. It dominates his whole being. hostage crisis needed was a few good Marines, the kind used in WW2, Raban heard from the bar-flys. In Muscatine, Iowa, a public relations official for a grain company grilled Raban on his motives for his trip and then blurted out: "Why is it that every time they show a bumpkin on a comedy show he's supposed to come from Iowa?" The Midwest is defensive about its image as one big farm full of hicks and hayseeds. RABAN'S OBSERVATIONS, especially about the sheer desola- tion of most river towns, and Judgments, sometimes his silences and nasty comments, will anger many.

Attending a pig roast in Iowa, Raban plotted a "fatness map of the United States" in which "Girth would generally increase from east to west and from south to north. The flab capital of the U.S.A. should be located somewhere near here in the triangle of Minnesota, Iowa and the Dakotas." Wild theories do. not belong to Raban alone, however. A radio station receptionist has a theory explaining St.

Louis' crime problemJunk food. "Did they have crime like this before dogs and burgers and French-fries and high cholesterol? They've done analysis on what rapists eat. Junk food! They got these concentrations of it in the body. I mean to ence of navigating on the Mississippi. The river has a will of its own, a heart faithful only to its own beat.

Over and over again the river lore Raban picks up in bars proves to be true. Boils, eddies and other unexpected natural phenomenon are the Mississippi's expression of its own powerful freedom. RABAN IS the closest the British will ever come to a free spirit. Looking like a mutation of Mick Jagger and Malcolm Mac-Dowell, Raban is naturally gregarious, a man who never sees a locked door as a barrier. His talent is to get close to strangers and observe them exposing their psyches.

His English-accent In this country has tle same effect as a psychiatrist's couch: on first encounters strangers tell Raban secrets they haven't shared with anyone before. He's their secret Raban discovered that the Midwest today is much like the Mississippi. On the surface, both appear placid but underneath there is rage, anger at being abused and misused. Former President Carter's trip on a river-boat only confirmed the Mldwest-erner's feelings of being manipulated for media points. Carter's ineptness brought scorn: all the Finn at age 7.

Thirty years later, in 1979, the attraction of Huck and his adventures on and off the Mississippi River were still so strong to Raban that only a Journey down the river from St. Paul to New Orleans and beyond would satisfy him. Raban's trip began on Labor Day and ended more than three months later in the rough little Louisiana town of Morgan City. His craft was. a 16-foot aluminum boat equipped with a 15-horsepower outboard motor, which was usually not equal to the challenges of the Mississippi.

It was not until he was south of St. Louis that Raban purchased a radio to communicate with other boats; that was motivated by the shocked surprise of a stranger who feared for Raban's safety. Raban labelled his voyage a "dream Journey" and like most dreams it was full of surprises and suspense. Although Raban had no training as a sailor, he was assisted by the Army Corps of Engineers' excellent maps and his own wealth of reading knowledge of the Mississippi. Yei nothing prepares one for the actual experi Rushdie's 'Midnight' Is The Soul Of India MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN, by Salmon Rushdie, Alfred A.

Knopf, $13.95. Always has and always will. Raban knows that is the real meaning of the Mississippi. When Raban ended a relationship with a woman he had met in St. Louis because he feared a permanent commitment, the reader learns his secret, as he freely admits: "I had developed a dubious talent as an escape artist.

Running away was something that had started as simple compulsion; now it was what I was good at On my river trip, I thought, I am doing only what I have always been doing: Keeping the sky up by keeping on the run." So the reader learns that Raban wasn't Huck after all, he was Updike's Rabbit running. Grace' Is Tedious From Cover To Cover romance AMAZING GRACE, by Judith Davis, New American Library, $13.95. simply deal with Jane's quest for stardom. Wrong again. Will It be a love story, with Jane searching for Mr.

Right? Try again. As the hapless reader Is soon to discover, the novel tries to cover all these areas. The result is a tangled web of plots and subplots, all of them undeveloped. shout, "Enough already!" One major fault with the novel is Davis' insistence on trying to accomplish too much. At first the reader is led to believe the story will revolve around Jane's search for her younger sister.

Wrong. As Jane's interest in acting one begins to think the story will BY COLLEEN WOOD PHILLIPS the few strong points she has to offer her readers. However, too often she shows only the seemy side of Jane Belmont's world. It is! enough to make a reader want to Enquirer Contributor All it takes is a quick reading of Judith Davis' first novel, Amazing Grace, to get the point: The author has good ideas, but she hasn't yet developed all the fine points of her profession. Amazing Grant Is tortious.

It's a eood idea Kemelman's Rabbi Small Talks Too Much In A Passage to India E. M. Forster was more interested in the heart of his English heroine than that of India. Ved Mehta gets at it, in a journalistic sort of way. Anita Desai has given us a jewel of a glimpse in The Clear Light ot Day.

But Rushdie is confidently there: pushing on the facts until the soul of his country leaks out. The English presence is so passe by the time Saleem is born, we catch it only in what has been internalized (or warped) by the inhabitants of Bombay: the cocktail hour, the pretentious name of Saleem's family estate (left over from its English builder, who is ironically Saleem's biological father); a certain love of starched white clothes, cricket, and the American cinema. BY THE time of the midnight children, the white man's burden is no more in evidence than his hastily packed cases. What occupies Saleem are the stories of his Indian family, beginning with the Kashmiri grandfather, with the blue of the Kashmiri sky In his eyes, and ending with himself, whom his parents call "little piece of the moon." It is India her many contours and moods, religions, casts, and myths that makes Ruushdie's book larger than life. Ironically, because of the switch at birth, Saleem Is related to none of the family he cronlcles.

Realities deeper than blood ties or happenstance of birth make Mid- which never realizes it's potential, CONVERSATIONS WITH RABBI SMALL, by Harry Kernel-man, Morrow, $1 1.95. maKing for a disappointing ena result. Amar.inct Grace is the Storv of BY KATHERINE GUCKENBERGER Enquirer Contributor In Midnight's Children, Indian author Salmon Rushdie has created a work with a life of its own. Written from the point of view of Saleem Sinai an ugly slum child who, has had the good fortune of being switched at birth with a from a rich; Muslim family -Midnight's Children Is the history of India's first 31 years of independence. In mock-autobiographical fashion, narrator Saleem Is often confused about the exact order of things (even known facts from history), counting on the keener vision of the seer, a sort of coincidence and correspondence which he sees between his own personal reality and that of the newly emerging nation.

BORN ON the stroke of midnight, the first day of Indian independence, Saleem Is one of a select group of children who, to honor the new India, begin life in possession of supernatural powers. Saleem's gift, it develops, is the ability to read minds; he is responsible, in later years, for getting in touch, via mental telepathy, with the hundreds of other children born, as he, in the bewitching first hour of independence. Midnight's Children, though, is anything but political. It is rather intuitive, as Rushdie expands themes taken from the trivial, mostly humorous life of Saleem into a picture of India as rich and contradictory, yet somehow intact, as we have had in recent fiction. Rushdie Is interested in making visible the emotional, mythical dimension of his country.

Jane Belmont, described as "the most dazzling actress of her era a woman driven by obsessive need past all boundaries of convention." Jane Belmont's life is the epitome of tragedy. Early in the story the reader learns Belmont's life will not be all roses. As a child, she must cope with the loss of a younger sister who disappears while in her care. Her father dies and her mother goes quietly insane. Jane's twin, Peter, is killed in the war.

As- a matter of fact, everyone Jane ever cares about meets some terrible end. Davis permits her main character only small periods of happiness before snhipptino' her to vet another thing but rejection of non-Jews who come with good will to learn about Judaism. FEW WANT to convert but many want to know about the religion of Jesus and his disciples and what happened to Jews and Judaism in the last 2,000 years. Giving them the back of his hand is a grievous error. Anyone who has been cornered by an evangelist for any faith will recognize the KemelmanSmall approach.

Usually, when KemelmanSmall draws a parallel or contrast to another branch of Judaism or to Christianity, it is at the expense of the other belief. He especially seems to enjoy beating Reform Jews for long-abandoned anti-Zionist and modernizing efforts. A sensitive editor could have strengthened the value and appeal of the conversations by eliminating this My Best Your Worst approach. Kosher means fit; this book is rated nonkosher. successful Friday the Rabbi Slept Late formula, Kemelman sends Rabbi David Small on vacation.

-At the lodge, Small is approached by an attractive young woman who wants to become a Jew. Before long, she brings her alienated Jewish fiance to the evening conversations with the rabbi. Small goes beyond the usual attempts to discourage a potential convert. He turns his back on the, woman and beams his charm on Aaron the Agnostic, appealing to Aaron's emotions and Intellect In the name of reclaiming the young man for the faith. Aaron is worthy of Kemelman's rabbi; the woman is not.

She, however, is allowed to make tea and clear the rabbi's table on the Sabbath when the rabbi is not supposed to work. It would be hard to Infer any BY BEN KAUFMAN Enquirer Reporter Harry Kemelman, whose seven well-told "rabbi" detective stories are so neatly laced with reliable, affirming insights into mainstream Judaism, has missed a great opportunity. Worse, he has given offense where none Is deserved or requlr-' ed. His new book, Conversations with Rabbi Small, could have been the lively, contemporary introduction to Judaism so many Jews and Christians wish were available. Instead, it is a didactic presentation of Kemelman's view of the faith at the expense of others.

And the way he resolves the human dilemma Is a disservice to his talents as a mystery writer. IN THIS departure from his ft night's Children a work of love. i THE BOOK RACK "hardship. TMatmdt Um4 rbck loki TRADE 2 for I I Read It in The Enquirer 651-4500 1 1475 SPRINGFIELD PIKE WHILE DAVIS does give the reader some insight into the world of the staee and screen, it is SprlngdaK 309 GALBRAITH Groesbecfc 10- a very sobering view. Davis knowledge of the is one ui.

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Pages Available:
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