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April 06, 1968 - Image 10

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1968-04-06

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Page Ten


Saturday, April 6, 196S'

Page Ten THE MKHIGAN DAILY Saturday, April 6, 1968


sbook sbooksbooksbooksb
Updike moves to the north and to improvement

State St. at North University

Couples, by John Updike. Knopf, $6.95.
In his fifth-and probably crucial-novel,
John Updike has deserted his obsession with the
Pennsylvania town of Olinger, his province of the
spirit, haunted and catechized by the economic
depression of the 1930's. If Couples, set in the
town of Tarbox, twenty miles from Boston, lacks
the lyrical nostalgia and the lyrical prettiness of
the Pennsylvania novels, it is nevertheless Up-
dike's most meaningful and substantial work to
Tarbox is a mixture of the eroded surfaces
of New England conventions and modern mores,
a blending of eighteenth century architecture
and the sprawling knot gardens of modern sub-
divisions. In other words, the setting purports to
be a picture of America today. The time of the
action, from the spring. before President Ken-
nedy's assassination in 1963 to the following
spring, is also significant, for the death of the
President is seen as the end of a generation,
an end of an American era.
The "couples" number ten, most of them in
their early thirties. Newcomers to Tarbox, they
feel neither comfortable with the fading tradi-
tions of the New England village nor capable
of discovering in themselves any aim, discipline
or value. For they represent the last gasp of an
American middle class whose beliefs have been

A puritanical guilt remains with them, but it
is a guilt that drives them to hysterical and out-
rageous pantomimes of the "liberated" puritan.
They are convinced that they have escaped the
tangle of civilization and have established sim-
pler lives in a Thoreauvian pasture. In reality
they intensify the illness of civilization, in reality
thlir behavior is a frenetic shadow play of highly
ridiculous sexual adventures. Yet these adven-
tures are the only virtues the couples possess.
The rest is lies, games.
Indeed, they are playing the games that peo-
ple play when they wish to destroy themselves.
Even their literal parlor games, their elaborate
and interminable charades, are symptoms of
their separation from reality and of their loss
of belief in themselves, a separation and loss
extended to the whole of American society. For,
as one character says, "I think America now is
like an unloved child smothered in candy . - -
God doesn't love us any more. He loves Russia.
He loves Uganda. We're fat and full of pimples
and always whining for more candy. We've fallen
from grace."
Much of the action of Couples is a matter
of mate-swapping. The sexual episodes range
from graphic to pornographic. I think that here
Updike fails to realize that the"-literary climate
which has removed "shock" from genital
scenery has not been able to guarantee that such
scenery will be interesting. At any rate, Updike's
Pompeian wall paintings are profoundly boring.

One wonders why he did not introduce a pair of
kangaroos into his novel for the sake of variety.
Alas, no kangaroos, and the human beings do
not do all they might to alleviate these stern
sexual scenes, because they are for the most part
too much alike. They are motivated, most of
them, by the same things. They all talk rather
alike. In fact, keeping them separate is for the
reader sometimes like trying to hold twenty
long strips of scotch tape in one hand in a high
So, with these observations, I have touched
on what I consider error in John Updike's novel.
What I have left to say has to be high praise.
For, from the sticky, transparent braid of char-
acters, a hero eventually emerges, Piet Hansema.
Piet, like the other characters is silly, but he is
also a creative figure in the way that the others
are not.
That he is linked with something potent and
vital from the past is suggested by a reference
to the death in 1963 of America's "greatest poet"
-a poet whose name nobody seems able to re-
member, except that it is not Robert Frost. The
refrence is, of course, to Theodore Roethke, and
one smiles suddenly to remember that Roethke
came from a background of Michigan and green-
houses, as indeed has Piet Hansema. In some
sense a great poet must always be sacrificed by
his society, must undergo a ritual death. And
Piet Hansema is sacrificed as an expiation for
the other. His unborn child by another man's

wife is aborted, his own wife leaves him, his
partner squeezes him out of the building business,
and he becomes a construction inspector of gov-
ernment buildings.
Upon these notes of sterility the novel ends.
But in the meantime Updike has built up a
devastating picture of a generation which has
lost its direction, a generation that is character-
ized as being "suspended in this one of those
dark ages that visit mankind between millennia,
between the death and rebirth of gods, when
there is nothing to steer by but sex and stoicism
and the stars."
While it is true that the novel seems too
lavish, that some of the stylistic stunts demon-
strate little more than that Updike can write
better than an undergraduate, the style never
becomes merely the sound of a typewriter, and
upon two occasions at least we are given serious
lyrical tours that American prose has not pro-
duced since Melville's uneasy novels.
Equally, while it is true that Updike's picture
of a generation lacks the involvement and emo-
tional sting of F. Scott Fitzgerald of Hemingway,
it possesses more range than these earlier chron-
iclers offered. And among contemporary chron-
iclers Updike's intelligence and clairvoyance seem
monumental when set against Norman Mailer or
Susan Sontag or any of the other sulky, bawling
kids who keep telling us they can see everything
about the world without ever taking their
knuckles out of their eyes.



y, Theosophy,



Magic, Parapsychology


215 S. State
2nd Floor

..... .. ... ...

University Bookstore
Books of All Kinds
Servig M ch,,an S/nic/el/s S ice 188

316 S. State

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or the addict
A Doctor Among the Addicts, by Nat Hentoff. Rand
McNally, $4.50.
... When I put a spike into my vein
And, I tell you, things aren't quite the same
When I'm rushin' on my run
And I feel like Jesus' son .. .
-The Velvet Underground
One song of the heroin addict. But there are other songs,
like the one that must have been sung by an old schoolmate of
mine as he hung himself in a freshman dorm at Harvard last
month. They said he, too, was hooked on horse.
And then there are those other 100,000 addicts in New York
City alone. A Puerto Rican girl is hooked after one shot and steals
from her mother's purse for the first few fixes. That doesn't work
after a while, so she ends up in a snake pit of prostitution, makeup
covering the tracks on her arms.
Life isn't so simple for the man. A Harlem boy is constantly
driven by a frenzied craving for heroin. One night he may be
successful in breaking into a butcher shop, the next night he may
be writhing in 'a jail cell, desperately needing to fulfill what has
become a daily physiological requirement.
Drug addicts are driven, and in their frantic, scraping lives
there are too few people they can turn to for sane advice.
One person, however, is a 35ish seersucker-skirted woman doc-
tor, Marie Nyswander, who spends her mornings talking to addicts
in her dingy little office in East Harlem. She doesn't set up
appointments-people just wander in when and if they ever feel
like it, because that's the way life is down there.
Nat Hentoff, whose last book, by the way, was about a high
school principal, has written A Doctor Among the Addicts, about
Dr. Nyswander. It is less about the woman doctor, though, than it
is about drug addiction in general. And although Hentoff's treat-
ment of Dr. Nyswander as a biographical subject is often super-
ficial, you do finish the book with a thorough understanding of
the critical social, medical, and criminal problems involved in drug
The character of Marie Nyswander comes through best when
she is allowed to speak for herself, i.e., when Hentoff quotes her
verbatim. Otherwise, we are assaulted with stilted Hentoff phrases
when we would much rather listen to the addicts themselves
describe her: ".. . she's a very beautiful woman. I mean she moves,
thinks, feels very harmoniously in terms of everything that's op-
posed to death. . . . She just can't do anything else."
When Dr. Nyswander speaks for herself, the profound nature
of her dedication to an alienated segment of society becomes un-
derstood. Drug addicts have withdrawn into a completely different
world, one in which the chronicle of our middle class lives has no
relevance. They experience a sort of freedom and beauty and are
creative in ways which are beyond the normal social human being's
capacity, Dr. Nyswander says.
The problem of drug addiction is essentially medical, social,
and psychological. It is today, in America, also a criminal prob-
lem because of largely arbitrary, outdated legislation which puts
an unnecessary burden on the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and
more importantly, the addict himself.


A Hopwood winner transcends topicality

The Right Trumpet, - by
John Roberts. McGraw-Hill,

On the dust jacket of The
Right Trumpet are the lines:
"This is a fiercely topical novel
(whose) protagonist makes a
journey we will all have to make
sooner or later." The success of
Roberts' book, which won the
1967 Avery Hopwood Award for
fiction, results from his abil-
ity to transcend that topicality.
It is not that topical themes
are unimportant, but when you
choose them as artistic mate-
rial, you run the risk of creat-
ing a work with cardboard fig-
ures, a work with ideas but no
people to live those ideas and
face the storms of the violent
themes the work is trying to
Strangely enough, if one had
to pick "the theme" of this
book, it would probably be some-
thing similar to the very risk
which Roberts ran when he se-
lected his material; that is, how
does one make a total char-
acter when the problems the
character faces are so ur-
gently current? But Roberts
succeeds-he realizes what his
characters must come to real-
As the story opens, an auto-
mobile accident brings Jenna
Ranett and Paul Shawn to-
gether, and the two question
the meaning of life. Jenna sees
little fruit in the effort, and re-
fuses to go very far with the
questioning, but Paul is deeply
affected by the terrible unpre-
dictability of death. His search
for some meaning leads him to
the Negro ghetto where he meets
Billy Joe Henty, a former play-
- - - - --_

mate who he has not seen for
many years, and Paul joins the
ghetto culture.
This effort on Paul's part is
never quite conscious, however.
If it was, the book would have
little substance at all. Paul
never understands why he has
decided to deposit himself into
the ghetto culture. Instead, it is
a feeling he possesses that
makes him join a motorcycle
gang and become concerned
with the problems of its mem-
Billy, on the other hand, is
more conscious of his effort. He
begins as a restless youngdNe-
gro with little direction, and be-
comes the ghetto's leader in a
struggle for jobs. Both Paul and
Billy are searching for some-
thing in life, and to both, the
problems of the society are real.
But Billy is defined by his so-
ciety. He is his own problems.
When Billy stands with the
mob of Blacks and confronts
the police with "Fuck you!" he
is in part a man being defined
by his society. But underneath
this "symbol" is a society filled
with life. This is where both
Roberts and Paul spend most
of their time. This is where
Paul finds the answer to the
question he began with.
On the other hand, Jenna,
who is outside this society and
cannot get in, tries to draw Paul
out. Her reasoning is inconsis-
tent with the terms of her de-
velopment, and represents the
one structural flaw in the book.
The walls that stand in front
of Billy and Paul are the walls
that prevent them from becom-.
ingh"total people." To blow "the
right trumpet" is to strike the
proper balance between the

"personal life" and the "social
life." The tragedy of Billy is
that the social problems are too
large. The trumpet he blows
at the wall of police is a social
one. Itdenies his being. He is
shot down. Paul is more fortu-
nate. For him, the right trum-
pet is a possibility, and in the
end, the reader is asked to be-
lieve that he actually finds it.
It rests on the solidarity of
human relationships.
The success of Roberts' novel,
however, does not result from
any thematic profundity. , It
comes from his ability to create
characters, that altough not
"unforgettable," are three-di-

mensional.'It comes from his
dramatic ability, and his ability
to capture detail. Roberts
knows how to pace a scene. He
handles dialogue well, and he
knows which actions are impor-
tant and which are not. It is
the episodic, the warm sensitive
looks as people interacting with
each other th'at determine the
book's success. In these pas-
sages, one always feels that
Roberts is in control,
In general, Roberts' first
novel is rounded, consistent,
and interesting. And it neatly
asserts his belief, "That when
you blow the right trumpet, the
walls come tumbling down."

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to an author's party to honor
author of
winner of the
Avery Hopwood Award
for fiction
on April eighth, 3:00 p.m.
2nd floor Mezzanine


Regular Runs to
Metro Airport
from side door of

THE MARLIN JACKET is brawny but sleek-
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Then the shell is treated for SHOWER-REPELLENCY,
It's styled with raglan shoulders,
knit English collar umbrella yoke,
and plaid lining. British tan, natural, navy or yellow.
Regular sizes 36 to 46 at $14.
long sizes 38 to 46at $15...
brawny sizes 48 to 52 at $15


Good grief, I wish
he'd never heard
about togetherness

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