Beloved, by Toni Morrison (Knopg, 276 pp., $18.95)
Toni Morrison has been silent for six years, since the publication of her acclaimed 'Tar Baby,' but her quiet time has been supremely productive. With 'Beloved,' Morrison again flexes her considerable strength in capturing the song of speech, the color of human life and the intimacy of oppression.
In post-Civil War Ohio, just outside Cincinnati, Sethe lives with her daughter, Denver, and the very active ghost of Beloved, Sethe's long-dead daughter. Into their lives comes Paul D, who violently chases Beloved's shade from the house and moves in himself.
Beloved, however, returns -- in the flesh, walking fully dressed from a pond out back, to establish primacy over Sethe's home and heart.
Sethe murdered Beloved to save her from slavemasters. As Beloved wanders through the house, the unspoken question 'Why?' haunts mother and daughter. Sethe, to herself, offers thousands of answers but Beloved, to herself, repeats the same question.
It is the silent dialogue that permits Beloved to dominate with a grip more difficult to escape than mere physical enslavement, because guilt forges nearly immutable shackles.
Morrison's themes of love in its infinite varieties entwine Sethe, Denver and Paul D in memories of fear and freedom. Sethe and Paul D recall their days at Sweet Home, a Kentucky farm owned by a kindly white man who for all his kindnesses still kept slaves, and their separate flights when cruel Schoolteacher takes over.
Sethe and Denver share a strange protective joy in their ghost and at first, as Denver recognizes the now-alive Beloved, they all embrace the gift of renewed life. But as Beloved's demands grow -- more food, more clothes, more attention -- Sethe and her restored daughter move through a frightening dance of guilt and accusation. Soon, Paul D leaves, and Denver spends as little time as possible in the house.
Sethe's final liberation comes not by herself, though, but from a unity of peoples once oppressed who recognize and do battle with slavery of any kind because enslavement of one is enslavement of all.
To call 'Beloved' a ghost story is to miss the point of Morrison's magnificent tale. Morrison's novel celebrates the struggle for liberty, not just of body but also of mind and soul. The peace of any sort freedom has a steep price, and 'Beloved' explains why people must pay. Anne Saker (UPI)
A Southern Family, by Gail Godwin (Morrow, 500 pp., $19.95)
The members of this Southern family are islands in a complex sea of events that force them to deal with one another after a young man murders his girlfriend and then commits suicide.
Gail Godwin has written an intense series of interlinking portraits that satiates a need to understand the intricacies of a family -- any family, not just a Southern family -- though this one does have idiosyncracies bearing a strictly Dixie label.
Yet Godwin's gentle probing and thought-provoking analyses also depict each character as an individual, painting complete portraits that stand apart from the family tree.
The violent deaths of Theo Quick and his girlfriend are the starting place from which the writer in the family, Clare, picks at, digs and knits together the pieces of each family member. She worms her way in and worries each character to an understanding. She can't help it. It's her nature and there is nothing simple about her work or her subjects.
There are the parents, Lily and Ralph Quick. Lily will always be thin, beautiful and thoughtful, and reveals little of her inner life.
Theo's ex-wife, Snow, is scorned as a hillbilly by most of the characters. Even Clare ridicules the place Snow calls home, Granny Squirrel.
Snow is one of the few characters with whom Godwin doesn't quite seem to be able to empathize. A creature of her upbringing in an impoverished family, she snared Theo into marriage.
She could easily be dismissed as just another beautiful girl, but she has a powerful stubborn streak and is more intelligent than even Godwin gives her credit for. After Theo's death, she is intent upon getting custody of their son, Jason. When Godwin tells her side of the story she comes close to giving a sense of what Snow is all about, but falls short.
Godwin is much more successful with developing Rafe, Theo's younger brother; Clare, his older sister, and Lily. These characters are the most wracked by Theo's death and probably the mostly likely to analyze why he died.
A simple review fails to do justice to the complex yet clarifying work Godwin has produced. She deeply satisfies a thirst to know the whys of the emotional and intellectual complications of this family.
The wounds that festered, the loving caresses that lingered, the repeated pains of misunderstandings, all are integral parts of being a family member, are made clear.
Godwin's work is one that bears reading slowly for full understanding.
Time Flies, by Bill Cosby
In the best-seller 'Fatherhood,' Bill Cosby skewered the job of being master of the house and head of an uneasy brood, a topic that appealed to everyone who is a father or has one.
Now he turns more introspective in his latest foray, 'Time Flies.'
The Cosby family is featured and the outlook and perceptions that mark much of his comedy routines and previous work are in full evidence here. But the topic this time around is age, or more precisely, turning 50.
Cosby looks at his body, that temple he cherished in his youth and remarks on its steady deterioration, despite his best intentions. He also offers humorous insight on how the aging process is affecting him.
He touches on nearly everything here, from memory loss to diets billed as increasing longevity.
That includes his views on the saying, 'Youth is a gift of nature; Age is a work of art.'
'Well, I hate to disagree with Confucius or Hallmark,' he writes, 'but if age is a work of art, the artist is one who belongs in the subway and not in the Louvre. I have heard about people aging gracefully and I'm sure that there must have been five or ten; but most of us merely clump along toward the golden years -- and find when we arrive the gold standard has been dropped.'
'Time Flies' will entertain, particularly those who are conscious of the aging process in themselves.
And when time flies for Bill Cosby, the reader has the fun. Kyle Kulish (UPI)
Sarum, by Edward Rutherfurd (Crown, 897 pp., $19.95)
The initial attraction of 'Sarum' is its setting -- England's plains of Salisbury and Stonehenge.
The opening chapters take place about 10,000 years ago and the beginning of the end of the Ice Age, when Hwll takes his wife, Arun, and their children on a quest for warmer, more hospitable lands that offer more food and a better life. They find it in an area where five rivers meet, a place that will be known as Old Sarum.
With that hook firmly in place, 'Sarum' goes on to tell of the descendants of Hwll and Arun and others, who become the five families whose lives Edward Rutherfurd relates on his detailed journey through England's history.
In 'Sarum,' Rutherfurd does for England what James Michener has done for this country and its various regions in novels like 'Chesapeake' and 'Centennial.'
In fact, the book's structure is very similar to what Michener uses. However, Rutherfurd is not as strong as Michener in his character development and at times, the historicalevents are much more interesting than the sometimes choppy generational saga.
There are fascinating people though, particularly Osmund the Mason, who sculpts many of the figures in Sarum's cathedral, and Margaret Shockley, whose brothers fight on opposing sides in the civil war between Oliver Cromwell's Roundheads and the king's Cavaliers.
In these pages, England's political, religious and social changes, its treatment of Jews, and its industrial development come to life.
'Sarum' is not only a good novel that holds one's interest despite its length, it is a good history of the country that is the motherland for so many of America's original settlers. Jill Lai (UPI)
The Terrible Truth About Lawyers, by Mark McCormack (Morrow, 256 pp., $16.95)
Mark McCormack, the wheeler-dealer who heads the giant sports promotion firm International Management Group and who wrote the best-seller 'What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School,' is himself a law school graduate, which gives him insight into the secret ways of lawyers.
The sense of mystery that purposely pervades the legal profession is just what he wants to dispel in 'The Terrible Truth About Lawyers,' subtitled 'What Every Business Person Needs to Know.'
Like his previous best-seller, this one is bound to strike enough chords to sell well, too. McCormack is a master of a breezy, anecdotal style, as if the book were a script for all the talk show appearances he'll be making.
His main points are that business people, or anyone who ever comes in contact with a lawyer, should remember: 1) lawyers are not perfect, it's just an act they learned in law school; 2) lawyers will drag everything out because it justifies their existence and earns them more money; 3) you pay lawyers, so make them do what you want and don't be afraid to ask questions.
McCormack then gives you the knowledge to ask the right questions and cut through the legalese.
His points on how the legal system works and what rights and expectations an individual has in dealing with lawyers are quite valuable and well-taken. Some may find that McCormack's self-serving use of illustrative examples from his own company's experiences gets rather heavy-handed. Is this really a book about lawyers or a treatise on how marvelously IMG represents its clients' interests? $(TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE$) approach was 'cavalier,' adding the call for budget reforms was a 'red herring' to distract the public from Martinez's recent
Man of the House, The Life and Political Memoirs of Speaker Tip O'Neill, by Thomas P. O'Neill, with William Novak
As former House Speaker Thomas O'Neill has learned, packing the recollections of a 50-year public career into some 400 pages cannot be done without sacrificing a great deal of material.
'We left an awful lot of clippings on the floor,' O'Neill said of the labors that produced his new book, 'Man of the House.'
O'Neill dictated about 200 hours of recollections and from that were culled the anecdotal gems that make up the book. Despite what is missing, 'Man of the House' offers a fascinating look at a half-century of American political life, stretching from city politics to the Congress, where O'Neill served 34 years, the last 10 as speaker of the House.
The book was written with William Novak, who previously collaborated on 'Iacocca,' but for the most part, 'Man of the House' comes across as vintage O'Neill. Those who dealt with the speaker will recognize his style of telling an Irish story, expressing his love of baseball or lambasting a president.
The first part of the book deals with Massachusetts politics, in which the legendary James M. Curley played a major role. O'Neill admired Curley's political skills if not his ethics, and says he was thrilled when Curley offered to give him tips on public speaking -- something akin to 'taking batting practice with the great Ted Williams.'
He talks of speakers who preceded him, most notably Sam Rayburn of Texas and John McCormack of Massachusetts, who took O'Neill under his wing and led him into the House power structure.
He describes John Kennedy's rise to the presidency and the roles played by Kennedy's father, Joe, and brother, Robert. O'Neill admits he 'never really liked' Bobby Kennedy, and 'I'm sure the feeling was mutual. To me, he was a self-important upstart and a know-it-all. To him, I was simply a street-corner pol.'
Recalling John Kennedy's congressional career, O'Neill says, 'He flourished in the Senate, but the House just wasn't his cup of tea. ... I've never seen a congressman get so much press while doing so little work.'
O'Neill's own political career began when he was 24, when he won election to the Massachusetts legislature. He became the first Democratic speaker of the legislature before moving on to Congress at age 40.
O'Neill came to know every president since Harry Truman and 'had a close-up look at their strengths and weaknesses.'
Not surprisingly, his harshest assessment is of Ronald Reagan, with whom he battled repeatedly during the last six years of his tenure.
He finds Reagan to be 'an exceptionally congenial and charming man' but says he 'lacked the knowledge he should have had in every sphere, both domestic and international. ... I've known every president since Harry Truman, and there's no question in my mind that Ronald Reagan was the worst.'
But Reagan is not the only president to come under fire. O'Neill also speaks tells of his frustration at Jimmy Carter's inability to work with Congress.
After Carter made his speech on the energy crisis, O'Neill urged that he follow up by contacting key lawmakers to push his energy program through Congress. Carter demurred, saying he had described the problem to the American people and that would suffice.
'I could have slugged him,' O'Neill writes. 'He was right in theory but wrong in practice.'
O'Neill's low regard for Carter's staff was well known, but the book reveals just how intense and lasting is his dislike for Hamilton Jordan, Carter's chief of staff, whom the speaker referred to as 'Hannibal Jerkin.'
Although he 'didn't care for' some of Richard Nixon's views, O'Neill concedes that 'no man was ever better prepared for the presidency.'
At White House meetings, Nixon 'came across as an extremely knowledgeable fellow who was always well briefed before the meetings,' O'Neill recalls. But Nixon would sometimes 'overdo the talk, just as he used to gab too much during our poker games back when he was vice president.'
O'Neill describes how, after voting for the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution and initially supporting President Johnson's Vietnam policy, he came around to oppose the war, becoming the first member of the Democratic establishment to do so.
Of Hubert Humphrey, O'Neill says, 'What a great president he would have been!'
O'Neill campaigned in 1936 on a slogan of 'work and wages,' and still proudly declares, 'I'm still a bread-and-butter liberal.'
On that note, it is understandable when he writes that 'absolutely the lowest point' in his career came in 1981, when Reagan won congressional approval to slash many of the programs O'Neill had fought for over the years.