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January 21, 1979 - Image 14

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1979-01-21
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Page 6-Sunday, January 21, 1979-The Michigan Daily
ROOS
"Pan a-ma'

The Michigan Daily-Sunday, Januar

By David G(

a tiresome odyssey

By Terry Gallagher

PANAMA
By Thomas McGuane
Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux,
175 pp., $7.95
THIS BOOK is not about "that
canal," so if you are looking for
politics, read elsewhere. Instead, this
seems to be a study of casual, ac-
celerating desperation and a hero
trying to keep his footing while being
thumped and jostled by treachery and
paranoia, the Scylla and Charybdis of
the seventies.
iOur hero regularly performs an
outrageous stage show called "The Dog
Ate the Part We Didn't Like," a mix-
ture of Alice Cooper and Johnny Rot-
ten:
I was making a tremendous living demon-
strating with the aplomb of a Fuller Brush
salesman, all the nightmares, all the
loathsome, toppling states of mind, all the evil
things that go on behind closed eves. When I
crawled out of the elephant's ass, it was
widely felt that I'd gone too far; and when I
puked on the mayor, that was it, I was
through.
Merchandised, against his will, as "the
most sleazed-out man in America," he
does little to deflate that estimation.
After the woman who might be his
wife - neither can remember having a
wedding - refuses tb have anything to
do with him because he has become "a
real animal and a national disgrace,"
this performer attempts to put his life
Terry Gallagher contributes book
reviews regularly to the Sunday
Magazine.

in order: "I am going to attempt to be
normal . . . eat regularly, see some
motion pictures, and take in the hot-
spots on weekends." (Remember
Travis Bickle's misbegotten efforts to
get his life "organizized" in Taxi
Driver?) The turning point comes when
he nails his hand to his beloved's door.
She rescues him from this quasi-
crucifixion and nurses him to-recovery.
To show his thanks, he seduces her best
friend.
On reflection, he does not consider his
own life that outrageous ("I considered
the wonder of the things that befell me,
convinced that my life was the best
omelette you could make with a chain-
saw") and if he is just a little
scurrilous, he argues, along with most
popular psychology paperbacks, that
extremity may be necessary just to
maintain equilibrium in an insane
world.
IF THIS novel has any depth, it is dif-
ficult to plumb because of the
author's minimialist style. McGuane's
prose is full of ellipses and short on
narrative. The characters share the
author's difficulties with articulation
("It seems I'm always saying the
wrong thing") and communication:
"Going where?" Catherine asked.
"What?"
"The sea water."
"Was I talking out loud?"'
This coincides with the narration's per-
versely annoying reticence. At one
point, McGuane says that he would
describe the contents of Don's room,
but that "none of it's of any interest."

v

Thomas McGuane

Suggesting that he could and then
refusing to do so only heightens the
silence. Little in the book is of any in-
terest, and Don's room can scarcely be
much more or less.
McGuane has written screenplays
(The Missouri Breaks. 92 in the Shade)
as well as novels. If you look for ex-
cuses for the thinness of this book, it
may be that he has grown too ac-
customed to having his stories fleshed
out by the elements of film, rather than
of prose. There is little atmosphere in
Panama, nothing like the dense salty
heat of the book 92 in the Shade or the
mosquito slapping Michigan back-

woods in The Shooting Club. Leaving so
much unsaid is a presumptuous sub-
tlety in a novel featuring such excesses
as a protagonist who climbs our of an
elephant's ass before a paying audien-
ce.
And why is the book called Panama?
It seems that the hero and his lover
may have gotten married there,
although they can't remember the
details and have lost the paperwork. I,
for one, lack the initiative to wonder
why Panama represents the Eden of
mental well-being for McGuane, being
as bored as he apparently is with these
characters.

C APT. JOHNBISSELL, 54, stood
on the bridge of the car ferry
S.S. Spartan, dressed in a
pressed white uniform and bearing
an air of authority which marked him
unmistakably as the man in charge. In
a few minutes, he would pilot the
Spartan away from its berth in
Milwaukee harbor, out onto Lake
Michigan, and on towards its
destination of Ludington, Michigan.
Below, the Spartan's decks were
packed with eager summer sightseers
and travelers, and the hold was
jammed with a cargo of railroad cars
and automobiles. But even though the
vital signs appeared healthy, the
Spartan's days may be numbered.
Soon, if its owners get their way, it will
join the bulk of the Great Lakes
passenger and cargo fleet in
mothballs-or the cargo yard.
Once dozens of ferry boats plied the
Great Lakes bearing their burden of
travelers, autos, and railroad cars.
Now, only a handful of aging vessels
remain as reminders of an era when the
shipping lanes played a dominant role
in the economy of Michigan-the
peninsula state. The ferry fleets have
been replaced by convoys of semi-
tractor trailers which rush their
cargoes around the lakes on high speed
interstate highways, and by efficient,
mile-long trains with their huge
payloads and skeleton crews.
As technological progress has ended
the reign of the Great Lakes ferries, it
has also brought an end to a way of life,
shared by the passengers who have
enjoyed the luxuries and convenience
the vessels offered, and the crews who
have depended on them for their
livelihood.
One afternoon last summer, the
clear, warm weather enticed hundreds
of Milwaukee sail and motor boat
owners out onto the Lake. Captain
Bissell surveyed a seemingly
impenetrable maze of small craft in the
ferry's path.
dLet's take hersat half speed," he
directed an assistant as they both
attempted to guide the 410 foot vessel
safely through the traffic. Bissell's four
years as captain and 25 years on lake
ferries imparted a certain calm
assurance that no mishap would occur,
that no small interloper would be
crushed under the ship's massive prow.
As the Spartan plowed forward, the
captain glanced frequently at the
hooded radar screen and called out
minor course corrections to his aide.
Within a half an hour of the Spartan's
departure, however, the traffic of small
vessels in its course sharply dissipated,
and the mood on the bridge relaxed
visibly. Bissell checked the radar
screen less often, told his aide to
accelerate to full ,speed, and
relinquished control to his second in
command.
"I've been on the Great Lakes all my
life," he said. "My dad was a
fisherman. When I got big enough to
work, I started fishing." Bissell now
serves as relief captain for the Chessie
System's car ferries, which haul up to
2,500 tons cargo on each run across the
lake. He alternates between the
Spartan and its two sister ships, the S.S.
Badger and the S.S. City of Midland.
HESSIE , HOWEVER,
wants to shut down the ferries-
which sail daily between Lud-
ington and the Wisconsin ports of
David Goodman is co-editor of'
the Daily.

)odman
})
i
iaunee, Ma nitowok, a nd
waukee--and replace them with rail
'ice through the Chicago train-
ds. In 1975, Chessie petitioned theiAmen familry
rstate Commerce Commission Klen fml
1) for permission to permanently Michigan. Six Kil
the boats, claiming annual losses '~for this voyage.
ver $4 million. Last November, an aon al nt
hearing judge okayed the lounge, engrossed
iedate closing of the Milwaukee "Y MOV
a ruling tht has been appealed to 11I live in
ICC itself. For now, at least, the sin, a
s i t

Kew
Milw
serv
yard
Inte
(ICC
dock
of ov
ICC
imm
run,
the
ship

By Eric Zorn

Proving the art
of accessibility

KICKING THE LEAVES
By Donald Hall
Harper, 53 pp., $7.95
D ONALD HALL storms and
blusters through his poetry
readings, flogging the air with his open
palm, adding insistent and fatuous
rhythms to his dark voice, and
generally providing a different sort of
entertainment for his audience than he
had planned. The burly poet, who
recently retired from the University
faculty to live and write in New Ham-
pshire, published Kicking the Leaves
last autumn, a collection of his latest
works, and it has become clear that
what we missed in the amusing reading
is, in fact, some of the best poetry that
is being written today.
Each of the thirteen poems in Kicking
the Leaves, some of which have ap-
peared in the New Yorker and the
American Poetry Review, is as clear
and swift in conception as in execution.
With no sense of floundering or sear-
ching for the ineffable, Hall explores
both the beauty of language and the
traditions and rituals which make up a
man's past. A great number of the

works are obviously autobiographical,
as he describes the shell of his father's
dairy, the stone walls on the mountains
near his grandparents' farm, and
walking home from a football game in
Ann Arbor with his wife. But despite the
unusual presence of so much precise
detail from his own past, Hall's works
do not have a self-indulgent air. We are
asked not so much to understand the ar-
tist as the ways in which the values of
the past coordinate with the present to
govern a person's thoughts and actions.
The title poem, "Kicking the
Leaves," is made up of seven "short
parts," as Hall calls them, each starting
with the central idea of leaves and then
reflecting upon them as they are con-
nected to moments from his life as a
small boy; as a father; as a grown son;
and as one of the final'companions of
his grandparents. The remarkable
thing about this poem, and, in fact,
every poem in the book, is the precision
with which the words are chosen, and
how subtle the visions of the poet. Hall
says that he spends up to seven years on
and off working on a single piece, and,
while this might seem excessive or
laborious, the reward is that each word

Bissell charged that Chessie officials
have been trying tq ditch the lake
service for years. "They have been
cutting down on these ferries since
1972," he explained. "We used to have
seven boats, and we ran six of them at a
time. We couldn't keep up with the
demand." The captain acknowledged
that the ferries, built in the forties and
early fifties, cost a lot to operate these
days.

is right and no image or analogy rings
false. .
THE CARE that Hall takes with his
poetry renders them so much the
more readable for an average person.
In these days of ferociously incom-
prehensible arcane poets whose ideas
are a closed book to all but the most,
patient of the intelligentsia, poems like
"Names of Horses" and "Black Faced
Sheep" demonstrate again what Robert
Frost (and others) have proved: one
does not have to be doggedly obscure to
be a poetic giant. There is a majesty in
the insightful observation simply
stated, and when writing about the
strong, solid voices from the past, it is
only good taste to use strong, solid
language.
Good taste is, maybe, the best way to
describe the poetry in Kicking the
Leaves. Hall sees the progression of life
as an enriching experience, but at the
same time finds something lonely and

sad about the decay of the people who
are now just faces who stare "from an
oval in the parlor." Men come and go,
generation after generation, and "we
are all of us sheep,/and death is our
shepherd,/and we die as the animals
die." But as he meditates on the
inevitable passages in the cycles of life,
Hall manages to avoid slipping into a
sentimental and lugubrious tone which
would turn even a powerful work like
"Stone Walls" into greeting card mush.
Just like a Robert Frost book,
Kicking the Leaves is a whiff of country
air - of the air that whips off the lake
on a 'cold, New England morning. In
poems that are provocative yet
remarkably accessible, Hall takes you
back where you have never been
before, and in some measure, brings
you to where you have not yet been.
Eric Zorn is co-editor of the Daily
A rts page.

"It's awfully expensive to run a
ship-especially the older kind," he said.
"We're a coal burner. We've got to have
15 men in the forward and 16 or 17 in the
aft and close to 20 in the galley." One
third of the crew is on duty at any one
time. Each crew member has four
hours on, followed by eight hours off.
Despite the ferries' large staffing
needs, Bissell said he was convinced
that the company could still operate
them profitably, if it wanted to: "Ever
since the war, the railroads have let
everything go to pot. Every freight car
we carry eliminates three semis from
highway traffic. That's important in
this day and age."
Passenger demand for the ferries, at
least during the summer months,
remains strong, although giving scenic
rides is only a minor aspect of the
ferries' function. All automobile berths
for this particular sailing had been
booked for days in advance. A half hour
before the Spartan's 6 p.m. departure, a
line had formed at the Chessie system's
ticket office, the eager crowd vying for
the few spaces left by no-shows.
As they have been for decades, the
lake ferries are a popular haven for
those seeking a watery respite from the
steamy cities on summer
weekends. For others, however, the-
ferries mean basic transportation.

mazesi t a iote
Bernard Killeen,
wife, brother, and
actually make
minimum of three
trip." Should the
said, "it would
wouldn't be goir
often." Added his
hate to see them sh
While the Kill
inside, other passe
the rail or rela:
watching the sun
lake. With the wa
picked up and a
most people ind
themselves in fr
television sets, or
at the bar, which
business.
Later that eveni
members sat arc
crew's mess discE
As they talked, ti
style supper of as
cheeses, herring,
fresh vegetables
standard of dininf
benefits of a job vw
members away fr
at a time.
Although the pa
inconvenienced 1
See FERI

Capt. Bissell at the helm of the Spartan

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