ROCK SPRINGS: STORIES
by Richard Ford (Vintage Contemporaries: $6.95) Richard Ford’s 10 stories portray characters eternally down on their luck: going on trips in showy stolen cars, passing bad checks, whose wives or girlfriends decide they want to live “a less domestic life,” whose high point in a day or a life is looking at a gold mine in the distance in the Wyoming desert.
These men and women are not criminals but ordinary people for whom life has taken a nasty turn. As Earl, in the title story, puts it: “Between the idea and the act a whole kingdom lies. There was always a gap between my plan and what happened. . . . I was an offender in the law’s eyes. But I always thought differently, as if I weren’t an offender and had no intention of being one, which was the truth.”
Richard Ford’s prose is masterfully crafted; his characters are alert despite their destitution, his plots unpredictable. “It is just low-life . . . that makes us no more or less than animals who meet on the road--watchful, unforgiving, without patience or desire.”
‘PRIMITIVISM’ IN 20TH CENTURY ART
Affinity of the Tribal
and the Modern
edited by William Rubin, illustrated (The Museum of Modern Art, New York: $50, 2 volumes) Published in 1984 in conjunction with the exhibit by the same name shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, “ ‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art” explores the influence of tribal art and culture on the work and beliefs of 20th-Century artists.
In his introduction to this impressive work of scholarship, William Rubin describes the reaction at the turn of the 20th Century against the “virtuosity and finesse of the salon styles” and the appeal of the simple and naive: the primitive or savage.
African and Oceanic masks and “figure sculptures” were discovered in 1906-07 by Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck and Picasso, although Gauguin, whose “primitivism was more philosophic than aesthetic,” is more accurately viewed as the first to integrate primitivist influences into modern art.
A series of learned essays by a variety of scholars discuss the primitivist elements in the works of Gauguin, the Fauves, Picasso, Brancusi, the German Expressionists, Lipchitz, Modigliani, Klee, Giacometti, Moore, the Surrealists and the Abstract Expressionists.
Superb illustrations juxtapose primitive masks and sculptures with 20th-Century art works, illuminating the affinities between them, “if not direct echoes.”
THE WORLD AS I FOUND IT
by Bruce Duffy (Ticknor & Fields: $8.95) This extraordinary novel, Duffy’s first, draws from the lives and writings of philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore, who were colleagues at Cambridge University, England.
At the suggestion of Gottlob Frege, “the virtual inventor of modern symbolic logic,” Wittgenstein left his native Austria to study philosophy and logic with Russell. At the start, Russell “called the 23-year-old Wittgenstein his philosophical heir, the most brilliant man he had ever met.” But as Wittgenstein’s own work began to eclipse Russell’s, the two men became rivals.
It is the “fearless and unrelenting” Wittgenstein whose life is at the center of this novel. As Richard Eder put it in these pages, “the philosophical dueling provides some of the book’s most exhilarating moments.” Although Eder felt that at times the novel’s “biographical detail is excessive,” he called Duffy “a superb writer” and the book “a treasure house.”
Domestic Policies After Reagan
by Alvin L. Schorr (Yale University Press: $9.95) “The Reagan Administration will rank high in history as a force in the promotion of selfishness,” writes Alvin Schorr. In his view, beneath the “denial and optimism” promoted by the Reagan Administration, there is a burgeoning mood of discontent and suffering in “a large sector of the population.” In “Common Decency,” he sets forth his own social objectives, building on the basic structure of the welfare state: fair shares in housing and education; benefits not exclusively for those who have paid taxes for them; full employment and integration.
The five essays in “Common Decency” propose to extend the decency commonly due to family and friends to include a much wider circle--reintroducing a sense of community and caring for whoever is in need, “for physical, mental or economic reasons.”
Enduring the Pleasures of
Motherhood and Family Life
by Joyce Maynard (McGraw-Hill: $7.95) Joyce Maynard is probably best known for her memoir “Looking Back” (a collection of reminiscences and observations on life by an 18-year-old college freshman). The book was charming and handsomely written, but suffered from its author’s presumption that the undigested matter-of-fact of her world was worth writing about with all the urgency of a self-appointed spokesperson for her generation.
“Domestic Affairs,” mainly discussing life with her husband and children in rural New Hampshire, is in many ways a companion to “Looking Back": well observed, well written and equally slight.