The Clearing: by Alan Arkin (Harper & Row: $12.95; 186 pp.)
Although “The Clearing” continues the allegorical adventures of Bubber the Lemming, protagonist of “The Lemming Condition,” it is not truly a sequel, in that it is appropriate for an older readership (10 and up) and has greater depth than the earlier book.
Characters search for the lion in themselves, the “lion” being a self both deeper and higher than the surface self. What keeps the story from being pretentious moralizing is Bubber’s refusal to accept philosophical twaddle.
At one point during his stay in the Edenic clearing of the title, Bubber meets Russell the snake, another Truth-seeker. Bubber freezes, and Russell interprets the Lemming’s posture as indicative of tension, and hence the cause of all the Lemming’s past illnesses. Bubber indignantly says he sees his tension “more as staying alive.”
When the snake responds, “Well, that’s nonsense,” Bubber shouts, “It’s not nonsense. Look at you. You’re a snake! When I see you, my mind yells out ‘Snake! Snake!’ What’s it supposed to yell out? ‘Beaver? Beaver?’ ”
The book’s fatal flaw is in its ultimate implication that, yes, Bubber should yell out “Beaver. Beaver.” So blatantly stupid is this behavior for a Lemming dealing with a snake that a reader would have to be a fool to emulate it when dealing with his own “snakes.”
Had Alan Arkin settled for satire rather than sermon, he would have had an indisputable winner. Fortunately, the questions in this book outnumber the answers. And the book is so replete with charming scenes and delightful dialogue that it will still satisfy most readers.