ON THE SHELF
The Harvard Advocate
Reaction is the law of life, and Norman Mailer's "The Greatest Thing in the World," the lead story in the latest issue of the Advocate, strikes a crumbling blow at the magazine's much-discussed and usually exaggerated "ivory tower." Mr. Roosevelt's characterization "underprivileged" is a euphemism when applied to A1 Groot, the protagonist of the tale. Driven by the cruel necessity of keeping his wizened little body alive, this "small, old, wrinkled boy of eighteen or nineteen" pits his wits against a gang of "sucker players" bent on taking his last grimy dollar. The reality of the situation has the emotional conviction of a nightmare; the suspense, built on a wealth of realistic detail, is as gripping as a war in Europe. Though the dialogue sometimes smacks of the Hemingway-Saroyan tradition, Mailer, who incidentally hies from New Jersey, has completely avoided the artificialities and the polished sophistications characteristic of so many Advocate short stories and replaced them with conviction, a strongly developed plot, and keen representation of detail.
Nostalgic reminiscences on the pre-1929 era of decadence, short skirts, and "tout ce qu'il-y-a plus chic" partake of one of the strongest traditions on the Advocate, of which Marvin Barrett's "The Party" in the previous issue was a continuation. In this vein is "The Year the Rain Came to Deauville" by Curtis Thomas, a narrative-essay on the super-sophisticated international set which located its feverish merriments at the resort towns of France. The sub-title is "Or Why France Fell," and an Editor's Note gives a sociological twist probably not intended by the author, attributing the Fall to the decadence described in the article. Although "Deauville" is profuse in anecdote and characterization, it by no means unburdens itself of the faults of the very set it purports to satirize. Clever in a superficial way, often self-consciously affected, it loses its bite by forgeting irony in adulation. The skill of the author is perfectly fitted for conveying the elaborate decadence of the international smart set and largely vitiates the annoying characteristics of the subject.
Bill Abrahams at his unusual best has written some brilliant poetry. "Lovers as Nihilists" is not in that category. The poem begins by scorning the artificiality "the contrived symbol the sly image the trick of metaphor" of the artist who reduces "passion to a poet's syllable." It ends by culogizing the blunt emotions of love and hate--"the hate that shows us naked . . . the love that cleaves us open-eyed, unmasked, unversed, alive. Voiceless poets released from artifice, whose statement sings in this most sensual peace." One hates to accuse Mr. Abrahams of hypocrisy; but when he lauds the poet "released from artifice," the accusation of poor humor, seems at least fully justified.
"Poem For the New Year," composed recently by Dunstan Thompson, is a simple yet commanding appeal for faith while faith is crumbling, for reality when all childish dreams have turned to nightmares. The necessity of this moral reform seems obvious to everyone today; its appeal is eloquently voiced by Dunstan Thompson.