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Book Reviews

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Parent Issue
Month
April
Year
1995
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held By
Agenda Publications
OCR Text

MYSTERY No Night is Too Long By Barbara Vine Harmony Books, 315 pgs., $23 Reviewed by Jamie Agnew Owner of Aunt Agatha's, a mystery and true crime book store In a golden age mystery it's a pretty safe bet that the least likely suspect- the one with the best alibi - w i II be the guilty party. As the tenets of psychology were absorbed by literature and the culture at large, this approach began to be seen as mechanistic. Since characters began dri ving plot, they've needed to have more character, become more than the paperthin, playing pieces of a dilettante author- entertaining as their game might be. Slowly whodunnit has been replaced by an eternal why - Ruth Rendell, P.D. James and others mining the bloody depths of the human mind. When Rendell writes a book and credits it to Barbara Vine, she's saying it will express the more leisurely, meditative, domestic side of her, but still reserve hergothic birthrightto improbable coincidence and sudden reversal. "No Night is Too Long" is such a book - in thefirst part the readermustsiftthrough aseries of clues encoded in the dreams, free associations and memories of a murderer's long confession. Letters f rom the subconscious perhaps but, as Tim Cornish sits in his decaying parents' decay ing house writing in his Journal, real letters arrive in the post, letters that also hint at Tim's crime, recounting stories of people marooned or shipwrecked on islands. We eventually leam the details, the killing for love and money, but too often the middle of the book isn't creepy - it just creeps. It's not that Tim isn't very "sympathetic." It's that he lacks the brazen villain's charisma. And sometimes n the midst of his rationalization, narcissism and remorse, I feit like Tim's analyst longing for another session with the bracing immorality of Patricia Highsmith's Torn Ripley. In the last part however, Vine seizes the plot reins from her pallid character and pulls a few breathtaking tums, overtuming the apple cart, yet bringing it to a satisfying, symmetrical wreek. If you want one of her classics try "A Dark Adapted Eye" or "Anna's Book," but if you're already an admirer try "No Night is Too Long" and give it a chance - this Vine will grow on you. PSYCHOLOGY My Education: A Book of Dreams By William S. Burroughs Viking Penguin, 193 pgs., $21.95 Reviewed by Lou Hillman Staff member at LJttle Professor Book Center The breach between dream-life and waking-life has been tied together in a variety of ways. Psychoanalysis, traditional and new-age religions and the notable experiments of Carlos CastaƱeda all point to the dream as a human capacity for perception beyond normal, waking awareness. "My Educaton: A Book of Dreams" presents William Burroughs as a faithful scribeand afamiliartoextraordinary perceptions. The book is a collection of more than 200 dreams from various periods of Burroughs1 Irfe. Many common themes emerge: the dreamer is being pursued; is lost; is aroused; is unprepared; is running out of time; is arguing. In addition, there are dreams which Burroughs considers uncommon: dreams of flight, levitation and sensations which appear "more real" than waking life. Here, Burroughs abandons interpretation forthe benefit of pure perception. He defends the dream, not for its meaning but for its perceptual possibilities and henee, its value to the written word. But they are cutting off our dreams - dreams don't mean much, they say, and proceed to make it so. night after night, with no dreams I can remember. Anatole Broyard said: "Shall WE continue to inspire books like 'The Place of Dead Roads'? I can feel the Wiper wipe away the dream traces... fading like steps in windblown sand or snow. Wipe. Wipe. The road to the Western Lands is still open. Just step back. Cut reaction lines. With an obsidian knife. The Western Lands... a floating feeling, absence of f ear. . . nothing between you and what you see... vacant lots, a crumbling brick wall...weeds...a fence, a field beyond...moving drift - ing drifting a muddy river, brown water pouring through a logjam, weeds and grass...a glade, the little green reindeer. (P. 158) Burroughs fears the disappearance of dreams, both in sleep and in writing. He seeks out extraordinary perceptions, forthrough them, we learn to feel and think. Burroughs' work asks the question, "What is the future of life and of art when there is no place for the extraordinary?" The word "homogeneity" comes to mind. In other contexts, Burroughs has been criticizedforhisunitary, authoritativenarrativevoice. In "My Education," nearly the opposite is true. Burroughs-as-dreamer is humiliated time and time again by the dream as f Burrough-as-Ego were quite unnecessary to the project. And then again, there are those dreams of unparalleled clarity which appear as kind of fortuitous circumstance. When writers turn 80, there is a tendeney to "let them off the hook" as artists. There is no need forthat here. Burroughs' craft is as tightly wound as ever and retains his particular brand of humor. The difference between entertainment and edification becomes visible, though the latter, here, is no less enjoyable.

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