Clipped From Fort Lauderdale News
Writer Shows Rare Knack In His Book Of Essays FICTION AND THE FIGURES OF LIFE by William H. Gass. Alfred A. Knopf. 288 pp. $6.95 Reviewed By W. G. ROGERS pAUL VALERY wrote miscellaneous pieces not on his own initiative but because someone asked for them, Gass notes in his preface. Gass then confesses he has done the same: these two dozen articles were suggested or commissioned. I join their company; I too was asked to write about "Fiction and the Figures of Life." But I want to make it perfectly clear to quote mat man that I would have read this eagerly anyway, indeed maybe twice. One perusal exhausts most books, leaving flattened cardboards with nothing between like a pricked balloon. This has staying power, it does not deflate. A reviewer confronts a book of this sort with misgivings. Two dozen articles commonly mean two dozen topics that range from cabbages to kings, and what can a man do with those riches in one short column? Should he touch every base or run over most of them lightly and expatiate on one or two? Gass by integrating his essays eliminates this problem; he has as many cross references as a concordance. A few striking points of view are explicated with care and exactitude, and they then echo and reverberate through the rest of the pages. From "Philosophy and the Form of Fiction" you are directed to "In Terms of the Toenail: Fiction and tiie Figures of Life"; from "The Leading Edge of the Trash Phenomenon" to "Imaginary Borges and His Books"; and so on. "The novel does not say, it shows," Gass argues. It begins with , language, with sentences. It is in the large an outsize metaphor, a major truth perceived in terms of minor truths; and by some magic it, like its characters, is more than the sum of its parts. The novelist creates his own world, not yours or mine. Sadly needing a sympathetic reader, one capable of "poetic involvement," it aims to summon up this reader. In abstract terms little in it may be true or right, but it will prove adequate and credible within its own arbitrary framework. Gass' shorter, complementary articles deal with Henry James he is not a complete convert to the estimates of Leon Edel though he grants Edel must be measured against the best of biograghers: Malcolm Lowry whose Cuemavaca Consul in "Under the Volcano" is a sot, worlds different from the fellow in "The Lost Weekend"; I. B. Singer, John Updike, D. H. Lawrence. But in connection with his introductory material his inevitable choices . ':M;7 - ;; Uyr J) 1 rV ' . AUTHOR WILLIAM H. GASS . . . integrates his essays are Donald Barthelme, Samuel Beckett and Gertrude Stein. My own prejudices, commitments and allegiances being what they are, I call attention specifically to "Gertrude Stein: Her Escape from Protective Language." Gass essay, dated 1958, is a defense of Gdte, as she signed herself, from an attack by B. L. Reid in "Art by Subtraction." "Once admired by few without judgment, she is now censured by many with reason," Gass reminds us. Dismissing literature as signs, she got down to what she called the bottom nature of her medium, to her medium bare; and as Gass properly identifies her, she who "made a vital thing of words" was the true revolutionary of her time. "Write and right" to her have nothing in common. There are most persuasive, most perceptively chosen quotes from "Three Lives" and "A Long Gay Book." I should like to add that she would have been delighted that Gass thought she, not James Joyce, a putative rival she never met but once, was the one to write about. Gass is witty and aphoristic with now a whiff of Veblen and now a dash of Rabelaisian spice. And he is good-natured; he has the rare knack of finding fault without hurting feelings. You bruise and maybe bleed, but you are still friends. W. G. Rogers is with Saturday Review Syn dicate.