SOMETIMES one can only see one's self clearly through the eyes of another. This is as true of nations as it is of people. I was reminded of this recently as I reread An American Melodrama, an account of the 1968 presidential campaign by three British writers, Lewis Chester, Godfrey Hodgson and Bruce Page.
It was that year that the trend toward campaign chronicles hit full stride. Most campaign books since have been lifeless affairs, often treating the process as nothing more than sport. Perhaps that's been true of the participants too. Not so 1968. That year the campaign seemed to be about the nation's survival.
These three foreign viewers gave us a deeply felt picture of our nation, of where it was coming from, and where it might go. Sometimes they are off base. Often they are amazingly prescient. Describing Ronald Reagan they write that asking "whether Reagan is good or bad is . . . an irrelevant question. He is a force, whether for good or ill depending entirely . . . on who is at the controls." Or on Nixon's debating style: "The facts, as far as they go, are accurate: it is how Nixon puts them together that causes trouble."
An American Melodrama was first published by Viking in 1969. Dell put out a paperback edition the same year. It is long out of print, but I still see it popping up in used book stores. PETER HEYRMAN Rehoboth, Del.
"BECAUSE we were very poor and could not buy another bed, I used to sleep on a pallet made of old coats and comforters in the same room with my mother and father." With this sentence Jean Stafford's Boston Adventure introduces us to Sonia Marburg, daughter of poor and unstable immigrant parents, living in a fishing village near Boston. At a summer hotel where Sonia sometimes helps her chambermaid mother, she sees the material trappings of wealth, and the drama of a life of comfort and pleasure. Finally befriended by a rich Boston spinster, she is rescued from her drab adolescence and introduced to an old and formal society on Beacon Hill.
Here I must declare that my interest in Stafford's work is due at least in part to our being good friends during our own growing-up years.
Stafford has been praised as a brilliant stylist. Her prose is packed with "things" as important symbols, each chosen for its connotations, and each adding to the emotional content of the novel. Boston Adventure (available in paperback from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) shows us a closed and decadent Boston society, and its impact on the life of a sensitive young woman. JOHN D. RAMALEY Frederick
A Critic's Eye
LIKE STRIKING gold digging potatoes, I uncovered a 1990 edition of Floyd Dell's Intellectual Vagabondage while glancing through the brochure of a publisher unknown to me. Dell was a celebrated and influential critic, novelist and editor in the 1920s. This "critique of modern trends in literary and social rebellion" is compelling reading, a searching exploration of the attitudes of modern intellectual life.
Dell's prose sparks the attention and activates the mind of the appreciative reader. The book is a rare bargain at $9.95 (soft cover) from Ivan R. Dee Inc., 1332 N. Halsted St., Chicago, Ill. 60622 PAUL W. FERRIS Murfreesboro, Tenn.
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