Dayton Daily News from Dayton, Ohio on November 24, 1996 · 58
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Dayton Daily News from Dayton, Ohio · 58

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Sunday, November 24, 1996
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58
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IOC SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 24. 19 DAY I ON DAILY NEWS Reading NONFICTION Memorial disservice A personal journey unearths unsavory secrets about the Stanford White family. By Christopher Lehmann-Haupt MEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE Suzannah Lessard starts this - extraordinary memoir by describing ' the place on the North Shore of Long ; Island where she did much of her growing up, and where her ancestors had lived since 1640. In particular, "she describes a covered well next to a crouching marble statue of Venus ' at the center of the garden she liked to explore. She writes: "Removing this cover, J3 would then reach down till my armpit was crushed against the edge, through dampness and maybe bugs, 'to turn a rusty wheel at the bottom. Then water would spurt from four jets around the statue in the sky." SThis is the first of many metaphors ' In this structurally poetic book. For in what follows she reaches into a past dominated by Venus until her ! very being is nearly crushed, through painful memories often ; more repellent than insects. And the tap she turns on not only cleanses her soul, but also washes away all that prevented her from seeing her-: self with clarity. The well, the fountain and the surrounding estate, called the Place by ' the author's family, were all designed by Lessard's greatgrandfather, Stanford White, the famous Beaux-Arts architect, notorious for being shot dead in 1906 by the Pittsburgh millionaire Harry K. JThaw, whose 24-year-old wife, the Showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, White had seduced when she was 16. The scandal of White's death was part of the author's childhood environment, too. "He was, however, rarely mentioned on the Place," she writes. "He was latent. The silence bout him was something dark right . there in the light. When I was a child, the Place was very bright. In that brightness, silence extended to the horizon like the sea, or like his ' fame: It was everywhere so that you didn't notice it, like the air." 2 Lessard's struggle in The Architect of Desire is to make the latent become overt. One step she takes in doing so is to explore more deeply the lives of White, Thaw and Nesbit. What she gradually comes to understand is that the murder was not the '-''.iconic event almost in itself glamorous" that posterity had some-Jbow interpreted it as being, and that ;'"censorious judgment of Stanford at the time" did not reflect "prudery, hypocrisy and naivete," as so many had come to believe. She learns instead that White's seduction of Nesbit was symptomatic of "something in him" that had "turned," she writes, even before he married the heiress Bessie Smith of the Smithtown, N.Y., Smiths in 1884, when he was 30. It was something hard and "icy cold" that drove him to pursue sex voraciously, to seduce and abandon compulsively. What Lessard comes to discover is something that is latent in more than just the architecture and landscape of the Place. By exploring the inscape of her memory, she teases out something destructive about her family. The emotional force of her final revelation is so powerful that to describe it here would be like giving away the ending of a mystery thriller. Yet the most remarkable quality of The Architect of Desire is the way its narrative slowly coaxes to the surface memories so terrifying that they lack all meaning to the author. "I have come to believe that there are mind memories and body .memories," Lessard writes. "Mind "memories are documentary, grounded in who, what, when, where. Body memories are a reliving of sensations and have a tendency to blot out the documentary factors." 2 For Lessard, Stanford White's life came to resemble body memories. "I -have surmised that Stanford's abdication of responsibility was Complete," she concludes. "As the moral custodian of his own life, he simply wasn't present. Because of this, there is no story. Without awareness, without at least an .attempt to exercise choice, there Is no drama. How can there be drama if no one is then;? In itself, a cyclone is not interesting. It is just a blind force. The story of the cyclone can . emerge only through telling of the damage it wreaks." Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family ." By Suzannah Lessard, Dial Press, 334 pages, $24.95 NONFICTION What color's the panic button? Carl Rowan's logic is uncharacteristically weak in ominous diatribe. By Claude A. Lewis KNIGHT RIDDER NEWS SERVICE For more than 50 years, Carl Rowan has been a respected journalist, government official, syndicated columnist and author. His has been a voice of reason throughout many of the most turbulent times of this century. Rowan has served his profession and his nation as a reliable barometer on a wide range of public issues. While men and women at both extremes of nearly every volatile issue have raised shrill voices, Rowan has remained a persistently independent, persuasive and calming influence until now. That is why his latest book, The Coming Race War in America, is at once surprising and in some ways disappointing. From the opening pages of the book, Rowan, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, titillates us with the warning that the war "is coming fast." But he offers little of substance, little that is new, to support his fiery hypothesis. What he delivers are broad generalizations, such as: "Signs of a searing, stupid conflict are almost everywhere; in the cruelly bigoted rhetoric that often befouls the well of the House of Representatives; in the swastikas and Ku Klux Klan symbols that festoon our military barracks; in the 'for THE COMING RACE WAR AMERICA JN A WAKE-UP CALL BY CARL T. ROWAN kicks' murders of two black people near Fort Bragg, North Carolina . . . and in the widespread lawlessness of some eight hundred militias and paramilitary groups that have sprouted up in the fields and urban haunts of America." Such isolated events have taken place for decades in America. Rowan doesn't . offer solid evidence, or even rational reasons, for his black-white conflagration. For most of the book, Rowan strongly implies that a racial clash is inevitable. In its final pages, however, he offers a prescription for peace thai he thinks will keep us from one another's throats more education, more trust of law enforcement, and muting the cries of America's hate mongers. Rowan uses a robust writing style in his attempt to persuade readers that the many racial blowhards now heard on talk radio and seen on television are on a path that will surely ignite a firestorm of hatred and civil unrest like no other seen in recent generations. The truth is that the hostility and incendiary rhetoric employed by many individuals and groups today have been with us in one form or another for decades. Before the current crowd, there was radio host Joe Pine and a long list of malcontents and troublemakers. - What we are experiencing today is not the impending racial war that Rowan envisions, but a rise in the rhetoric and thinly veiled threats. Perhaps the greatest danger to emerge from The Coming Race War in America is to Rowan's reputation as a responsible and accurate journalist. His book is interesting, but does not stand up to careful examination. It would be a terrible irony if Rowan became the greatest casualty of his nonexistent war. The Coming Race War in America By Carl T. Rowan, Little, Brown, 310 pages, $22.95 FICTION Shocking, but true Butler's headline-inspired stories draw meaning from the most ridiculous sources. FICTION By Juliet Wittman KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE Each story in Robert Olen Butler's Tabloid Dreams is shaped around a title that mimics a tabloid headline: Every Man She Kisses Dies, JFK Secretly Attended Jackie Auction, Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot. Though there are some hilarious moments, the device isn't used primarily for laughs. Butler has understood something about the place of such fantasies fn our culture, the way their utter absurdity illuminates a kind of communal longing for magic, for escape from our mundane and isolated lives. In each story, the fantastical mingles with the everyday, as it does in dreams. Once you've accepted that molecules of a Titanic survivor, trapped in a waterbed, might think and remember, you're drawn effortlessly into his quietly devastating images of the great ship's last hours; you understand the half-stifled, unaccustomed stirring of love that surprised him on the brink of death. It seems apt for this story to open the collection (and for a related story to close it), because there's a beautiful liquidity both to Butler's prose and to his imagination. Sex and death hold hands and dance in Tabloid Dreams. Butler moves from humor to sadness within a sentence Series makes fantastic debut 'A Game of Thrones' hooks readers with magical tale of murder and mutiny. Tabloid Dreams By Robert Olen Butler, Henry Holt, 203 pages, $22.50 or two, can comfortably assume either a male or a female persona (all these stories are told in the first person), and has no problem yoking the unbelievable to the profoundly true. The jealous husband may be a parrot, able to do little but squawk and flap, but how poignant in an avian way are his attempts to communicate with his beautiful and indifferent wife. There's no love here without loss. Jack Kennedy muses on his lost Jackie; the Woman Loses Cookie Bake Off, Sets Self on Fire yearns for the warmth and integrity of her mother's kitchen; another protagonist awaits the return of the space-man lover she met in a Wal-Mart parking lot. And yet these aren't sad stories. They're too funny for that. And in almost every one, there's a moment of transcendence; for every character, redemption glimmers. By Lauren K. Nathan ASSOCIATED PRESS A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin is the first in a planned series that fantasy fans will not want to miss. Tales of sorcery, adventure, betrayal, love and royalty grip the reader from Page 1. Martin lays out the story in an unusual but pleasing fashion. Each chapter focuses on one character and his conflicts. What seem to be insignificant details turn out to be clues that lure the reader further into the story. Martin's imaginary world is magnificent it's mystical, but still believable. In a land of magic and mystery, an evil force is at work. In the North, the Starks of Winterfell have discovered a pack of direwolves, the likes of which haven't been seen in centuries. Eddard Stark, the master of Winterfell, receives an unexpected visit from King Robert. The king's devoted adviser has just died and he wants Stark to take his place. Stark is reluctant to take on the responsibilities of the position, and he also thinks there's something mysterious about the adviser's death. Stark's wife persuades him to accept the offer, for the sake of their family as well as the kingdom. Reluctantly, Stark travels south with Robert. At the . . we i-ii. o u i w f . Mil aMurM ICE HI MARTIN A Game of Thrones By George R.R. Martin, Bantam, 694 pages, $21.95 royal court, he uncovers schemes of murder and deception that are so graphically portrayed that they disgust as well as intrigue the reader. Stark discovers that Robert's enemies plan to take the throne, but he can't prove it and can't stop them. Meanwhile, there are sinister forces gathering beyond the kingdom's walls. As members of the hierarchy fight among themselves, their enemy is gaining strength. This book depicts an enchanting world where magical forests hold secrets, and faces carved into trees tell tales of long ago. It tells of kings and queens, lords and ladies, and their battles for the throne. Readers of A Game of Thrones will undoubtedly look forward to its sequel. BEST SELLERS Reported by The New York Times Fiction Last Week 1. THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN Jacquelyn Mitchard, $23.95 1 2. "M" IS FOR MALICE Sue Grafton, $25 2 3. SILENT HONOR Danielle Steel, $24.95 4. MY GAL SUNDAY Mary Higgins Clark, $23 4 5. THE LAWS OF OUR FATHERS Scott Turow, $26.95 5 6. DESPERATION Stephen King. $27.95 3 7. EXECUTIVE ORDERS Tom Clancy, $27.95 6 8. THE NOTEBOOK Nicholas Sparks, $16.95 10 9. THE TAILOR OF PANAMA John LeCarre. $25 . 7 10. THE THIRD TWIN Ken Follett, $25.95 t 11. SAY YOU LOVE ME Johanna Lindsey, $22 12. THE REGULATORS Richard Bachman, $24.95 9 13. THE CELESTINE PROPHECY James Redfield, $17.95 12 14. FALUNG UP Shel Silverstein, $16.95 12 15. THE CHRISTMAS BOX Richard Paul Evans, $14.95 Nonfiction Last Week 1. MY SERGEI Ekaterina Gordeeva with E.M. Swift, $18.95 9 2. THE SOUL'S CODE James Hillman, $23 1 3. DOGBERT'S TOP-SECRET MANAGEMENT HANDBOOK Scott Adams, $16 2 4. THE DILBERT PRINCIPLE Scott Adams, $20 4 5. DON'T BLOCK THE BLESSINGS Patti LaBelle with Laura B. Randolph, $24.95 3 6. SLOUCHING TOWARDS GOMORRAH Robert H. Bork, $25 6 7. ANGELA'S ASHES Frank McCourt, $24 8 8. AMERICAN TRAGEDY Lawrence Schiller and James Willwerth, $27.50 8 9. DOWN IN THE GARDEN Anne Geddes, $49.95 10. HOW GOOD DO WE HAVE TO BE? Harold S. Kushner, $21.95 7 11. JAMES HERRIQT S FAVORITE DOG STORIES James Herriot, '1 $17.95 14 12. LOVE LUCY Lucille Ball with Betty Hannah Hoffman, $24.95 10 13. UNDAUNTED COURAGE Stephen E. Ambrose, $27.50 15 14. CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD Neale Donald Walsch, $19.96 15. UNLIMITED ACCESS Gary Aldrich, $24.95 10 Miscellaneous Last Week 1. MAKE THE CONNECTION Bob Greene and Oprah Winfrey, $18.95 1 2. MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS John Gray, $23 2 3. THE ZONE Barry Sears with Bill Lawren, $23 3 4. SIMPLE ABUNDANCE Sarah Ban Breathnach, $17.95 4 BOOK SIGNINGS : VAL COLEMAN, author of Beverly and Marigold, 4-6 p.m. today at Epic Book Shop, 118 Dayton St., Yellow Springs. RUDY MAXA, spokesperson for Access travel guides, 7-8 p.m. Monday at Books & Co., Town & Country Shopping Center, 350 E. , 1 Stroop Road, Kettering. 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