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February 29, 1976 - Image 4

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Michigan Daily, 1976-02-29

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Page Four


Sunday, February 29, 1976

Page Four THE MICHIGAN DAILY Sunday, February 29, 1976



The Dead Father: Provoking
us to confront our old myths

Vidal's 1876 offers engrossing glimpse
into scandals of Grant and Boss Tweed

Donald Barthelme, Farrar,
Straus, and Giroux, N.Y., 177
pp. $7.95.
RE ARE things that are
bigger than we are: Re-
ligions, myths, philosophies, eth-
ics, and governments. We, in-
dividually, are troubled by them.
They command so much of our
attention, creating problems that
require commitments for an-
swers. But thinking about them
is like kow-towing to a figure-
head -- satisfactory rewards
are never f orthcoming. On the
other hand, we, collectively, are
the supporters of their existence,
we being those who need to be
governed, who need a guiding
light or a straight and narrow
path. We are, after all, the de-
terminants of human nature.
The Dead Father, an allegor-
ically-tinted new novel by Don-
ald Barthelme provokes t h i s
conflict between ! man and the
body of commandeering, man-
made overseers, by reducing the
creations of our grandiose
dreams to the size of a single
The title character is big all

right (3,200 cubits, or approxi-
mately 5,000 feet from head to
foot), but assumes proportions -
a human voice, and annoying
human idiosyncrasies. Imagine
conversing with St. Peter's Ca-
thedral, and having it speak
with a lisp. The armor of the
Dead Father is similarly flaw-
Nineteen laborers and a sup-
ervising party of two women and
a man are dragging the half-
living, half-artificial Dead Fath-
er, by means of a cable, through
an indeterminate land toward
an indeterminate destination.
The trip will supposed conclude
with his rejuvenation. The nine-
teen behave like a raggedly or-
ganized group of laborers, grous-
ing now and then through a
spokesman, but generally under
control. The supervisors relax in
the comfort of their supervision,
enjoying small comforts reserv-
ed for the well-to-do, engaging
in snippety complaints a n d
highbrow chitchat, and basking
in their smug power.f
the entertainment. He is a#
moody and many-faced travel-
ling companion and will be al-
ternately god-like, presidential,
cagey, babyish, and lecherous.
He is deferential on only one

subject - the completion of the
journey. He is aware that his
conditioned has weakened.
In a previous story, "T h e
Indian Uprising", which appear-
ed in the collection Unspeakable
Practices, Unnatural Acts, Bar-
thelme's narrator finds himself
being chased by a Comanche In-
dian down a stairway, and even-
tually tossed "over the balus-
trade through a window and into
another situation". One of Bar-
thelme's favorite concerns,
seems to be these alternate sit-
uations - simultaneous goings-
on with the facades which sep-
arate them.
In The Dead Father, the en-
tire cast often finds itself, with
the abrupt turn of a page, leap-
ing into a different situation.
There is a bartender mixing
drinks in the middle of a field,
an adolescent couple nuzzling
each other by the side of the
road, and a dance attended by
a small community of apes. All
seem to be waiting in limbo for
the travelling party to come
upon them. This adds a film-like
quality to the narrative, as if
there are prepared sets and
characters awaiting their turns
before the camera.
QEGMENTS of the narration
also enhance the perception

1876 By Gore Vidal, Random
House, N.Y. $10.00.
GORE VIDAL has proven him-
self time and again a man
of dual nature. He can be mod-
ern yet terribly antique, funny'
and amazingly dull, childish
T I : and awesomely mature. All of
these he displays in his latest!
work, a novel by name of 1876.
It may be that this book owes<
no debt whatsoever to Doctor-
ow's Ragtime-esque style of pit-
of the novel as film. Visual ting fictional against real histor-
phrases, like instructions from ical characters. It may be, too,
a shooting script are common. that the Grand Canyon is some-
"Evening. The campfire. Cats where in New York State. And
crying in the distance. Julie the buck does not stop here -
washing her shirt," is one such the commercial appeals this
example. book makes are many.

makes it enjoyable is its bright-
ly written style. Once the read-
er has been brought into the
novel (a formidable task in it-
self, after the massive number
of historical events and charac-
ters that must be assimilated),
it becomes a fast-paced gallop
through the history that bored
us in school.
dal, we may remember,j
gave us the childish Myra
Breckinridge and its sequel My-
ron, shocked the critics of 1948
with The City and the Pillar,
and wrote The Best Man, gen-
erally considered to be one of
the finest political satires of the
last 20 years. This is by way
of demonstrating to what de-
gree his quality fluctuates. {

The Dead Father is an arch-t
ly unromantic and vaguely de-I
pressing novel; unromantic be-'
cause it finds all of society in.
cahoots, and only vaguely de-1
pressing because though there isi
a sense of something originally
human going down with the 1
Dead Father. The novel seems
to look at itself with a kind of:
chagrined laughter - it sees a;
banana peel in its path a n d
knows it will slip and fall, so it
says "Ooops" before stepping
on the banana.

It follows on the heels of Vi-1
day's earlier historical successE
Rvi"u asru, e toi) it a Lf bifUUI


But it is nonetheless irritating

his nose.
Yet the story itself is en-
gaging. There is perhaps no
better way to make history
come alive than to present it
in this framework. The plot is
slight - Charles Schuyler, an
aging diplomat-cum-reporter, is
back in the United States after
38 years abroad, with his daugh-
ter Emma. She is looking for
a husband, and not anyone will
do, for she is the widow of a
French prince.
jT IS ALMOST a cliche to pre-
sent history through the
eyes of journalists or writers,
because who else, we ask our-
selves, must keep their senses
alert as a part of their profes-
sion? So we have the prolifera-
tion of those who tell their
stories of the age. Perhaps no
one represented an age as well
as Edmund Wilson did in the
twenties, yet if Vidal is attempt-
ing to emulate the snide good
humor and incisive analvsis of
Wilson, he is making a joke of
the matter.f
Which is not to say that the1
observations of Charles Schuy-
ler aren't wickedly funny, be-1
cause they are. But they must|l
be recognized as the aristocrat-
ic and effete mumblings of a
man who has seen better days.-
The novel is a good one; itj
is engrossing, and funny. The
main points against are its ob-'
vious imitatory nature, and the
way it is being hawked. But if
there is indeed nothing new un-
der the sun, this obiection can
be overlooked. For if it is mere
reworking it is exceedingly clev-
er. And if the manner in which

Burr, even to the extent of or. -~- -
rowing one of the major charac- that Vidal the writer chooses to r
ters, Burr's son and protege show off his vast historicali
Charles Schemerhorn Schuyler. knowledge in the novel. Referen-
The story is set in 1876, capital- ces are made every third line
izing neatly on Bicentennial fer- to some ongoing historical event;
vor. It deals in large measure that will remind the reader that
with governmental corruption, not only are the events he's1
focusing primarily on the Ulys- reading about taking place a
ses Grant and Boss Tweed scan- century ago, but that Gore Vi-I
dals, though also touching on day, his genial host, has done!
the robber barons and the pur- quite a job of researching those
chase of seats to the United events.1
States Senate. And it is an his-' And Vidal doesn't miss a lick.
torical novel, with all the lovely In the first few pages he re-
connotations that entails - the minds us that Nordhoff report-
vicarious thrill for the reader ed from Washington for the:
of reliving an era. Herald, that Stanley searchedl
Vidal is either a lucky mounte- for Livingstone for 10 years,
bank, or a fine writer who has that Tilden was planning to run
produced some real garbage. I for President, that Fifty-seventh
think it more likely that he can Street was considered a farm-a
write; it's just that he chooses land, on and on, ad nauseam.
to pander every now and again. Vidal is just so pleased with
The aspect of 1876 which: himself that you want to pull,


it is sold offends, why, it can
be purchased through the mail
by the agency of any one of the
many book-clubs that have se-
lected or plan to select this
plump volume as the monthly
There are few books that can-
not be criticized meaningfully,
and fewer still that have no
flaws. But 1876 is not meant
to read with an eye for per-
fection, it is meant, to use the
vulgar, to be "one hell of a
read." And it is.

Jeffrey Selbst is a
for on the Arts Page.

night edi-

Sherwin details drama behind the A-bomb

conclusion is not without
its ambiguities. The Dead Fath-
er perishes in a ditch. It is not a
difficult death. He puts up no
grim fuss. He was, he adimts,
resigned, and there is merely a
brief whimper just before the
end. The journey was infinitely
more trying. He cannot die in
his native state. The question,
then, is the Dead Father more
tragic in being killed, or in just
being carried out of sight? Are
our old myths more frightening
because they never die? Or be-


A WORLD DESTROYED by ,throughout the world became matic counter against the post-
Martin J. Sherwin. Alfred A. alert to the possibility of har- war ambitions of other nations-
Knopf, N.Y. 315 pp. $10.00. nessing atomic power into a especially those of the Soviet
military weapon of awesome de- Union. Roosevelt elected the
By THOMAS FIELD ; structability. course of action espoused by
T HE DROPPING of atomic Cognizant of the danger of Churchill and, to the very end
bombs over Hiroshima and sucha weapon should it fall of the war, atomic weaponry
Nagasaki in August,1945-an ac-ainto the hands of the Nazis, a was never discussed with Stalin.
tion which leveled both cities small group of emigrant physi- Sherwin's account challenges
to the ground and killed tens of cists from fascist Europe. in- traditionally held opinions that
thousands within seconds - has g d Alera te in un Roosevelt was a firm believer
come to be regarded as per-ed a desperate campaign upon in collective security as a guar-
haps the seminal event of the the American and British ga antee of national safety and
twentieth century. It brought ernments to begin work on an that he made every possible
World War II to a devastating- atomic bomb. When the Man- effort to assure friendly post-
conclusion while planting the hattan Project, as the effort to war relations with the Soviet
seeds of the Cold War. It also develop the bomb was called, Union.
ushered in the nuclear age and finally got off the ground in
its threat of total annihilation of late 1941, the primary driving When he ascended to the
mankind. force behind it was fear that presidency following Roosevelt's
What went on behind the Germany might make a bomb death in April, 1945, Harry Tru-
scenes regarding the bomb's de- first. man was a complete stranger to
velopment has long been some- foreign affairs and foreign di-
thing of a black box for his- ,TEILS BOHR, the eminent plomacy and, in fact, knew noth-
torians, a fact which has result- Danish physicist and an ing of the atomic bomb, which
ed in a host of mysteries. un- emigrant to the U.S., emerged was.now almost ready for use
certain speculations and myths. as the leading advocate of in- (Secretary of War Henry Stim-
Martin Sherwin, drawing on a ternational control and warned son waited a few weeks before
wealth of original material in- the President that if no initia- letting the new president in on
cluding s e v e r a I recently re- tive were made toward sharing the secret).
leased documents, has produced the atomic secret with Russia
in A World Destroyed a tight, before America deployed a INSECURE IN his new position,
well-written account of Ameri- bomb, the result would be dan- and lacking policies of his
can atomic diplomacy during gerous competition with the So- own, Truman had little alterna-
the war that goes a long way viets once they developed their tive but to follow the recom-
toward establishing the truth of own bomb. mendations of his predecessor's
what went on in policymaking British Prime Minister Win- advisors - especially those of
circles. ston Churchill, who took a dif- Stimson-who urged him to take
ferent view of the situation a more forceful diplomatic ap-
FOLLOWING the discovery of than Bohr, urged Roosevelt to proach against the Russians
nuclear fission in Germany maintain the Anglo - American than Roosevelt had. A conviction
in December, 1938, scientists atomic monopoly as a diplo- that the atomic bomb was a
diplomaticrmasterscard that
would "force Russia to play
ball" was b e h i n d Truman's
GIN ETTA SAGAN rather blunt negotiations with
Stalin at the Yalta Conference.
West Coast Coordinator of Sherwin's study reveals that
the purported effectiveness of
AMN ESTY INT ERN AT IONA L such diplomacy was merely an
illusion and that it may have
WILL SPEAK ON had adverse consequences for
the United States. The Soviets
"Political Prisoners in q ui c klI y achieved their own
Brazil Uraguay Chile Iranbomb after the war and, in the
Brazl, U agua, Chle, raninterim, practiced a "reverse
and South Korea" atomic diplomacy" underplay-
Three 14hcenru
12 noon: International Center (brown bag) THE CREAT
4 p.m.: International Center THE I
Sponsored by: Group on Latin American Issues presented by students from
the U of M school of drama,
__ i directed by Royal Word.


ing the bomb's importance.
Sherwin thoroughly explores
the motives and intentions of
the policymakers who decided
upon the surprise attack deploy-
ment of two A-bombs over Ja-
pan instead of less drastic
measures. He finds that from
the very beginning of its de-
velopment, the government as-
sumed the bomb would be used
if available during the war and
that no alternatives were really
ever seriously entertained.
THE BOMB had come to be
regarded as something of a
panacea for establishing
America's power in the post-war
world, especially vis a vis Rus-
sia, and it was felt that only a
dramatic demonstration of the
weapon, meaning the use of it
in a military situation, could
establish it as an effective dip-
lomatic tool. Also, in the minds
of many, there would have been
nothing to show for all the time
and money spent on the bomb's
development if it were not de-
In light of information that a
Japanese surrender may have
been imminent b e f o r e Hiro-
shima, 'and was definitely con-
sidered before Nagasaki, Sher-
win concludes that "neither
bomb may have been neces-
sary; and certainly the second
one was not."
A World Destroyed. provides a
'fascinating glimpse into recent
history and offers new insights
into American foreign policy
during the war. Sherwin's book
is thought-provoking and a bit
disturbing, for it leaves one to
ponder how things may have
turned out if America's policy-
makers had chosen alternative
courses of action in regard to
their awesome new weapon.
Thomas Field is a senior maj-
oring in English.


ry mystery plays:



Audrey Schumann, organist
Sue Kieren and Nelva te
Brake; recorder, viola do
TONIGHT, 6:00 P.M.

a place for people
orie block north of
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