In the age of the atom, man has suddenly found in his hands the power to destroy or recreate his world as he sees fit. How, if at all, this knowledge makes itself felt in the lives of thoughtful people, and what changes, if any, it must work in the vast pattern of human interaction, are the problems Theodore Morrison treats in his second novel.
"To Make a World" is a searching assessment of a critical period in the life of Sam Norris, a young college administrative assistant. Norris' immediate problem is to effect a working liaison between the college and a charitable foundation of enormous wealth, but basically he must educate himself to operate in a world of diverse personalities. Sam discovers in his work with the foundation that there is no escaping personalities, and the sudden disintegration of this admired circle into which he has entered teaches him the painful error of his early statement, "People are a class that doesn't include me."
The New Era
Throughout the book runs the echo of the new era, recalling the sky-splitting trajectory of a jet plane that catches Sam's eye at the opening of the story. The choice between destruction and survival is implicit even in the work of the foundation, which divides its time between charity for true education and the preparation of the Disaster Clinic for a possible holocaust. And Morrison suggests that as time runs out for men, so it may run out for our civilization, unnoticed until too late. But for all this, the education of Sam Norris ends in no new knowledge beyond the old lessons of human tolerance. Though it may seem unsatisfactory, "It takes all kinds" is the best answer at which confused human questioning can arrive.
As befits a book as thoughtful as this one, Morrison's writing is clear, careful, and full of meaning. The author presents the endless minor exasperations of modern life, the galling though unimportant personal frictions, with a truthfulness that is often painful--the more painful because of the understanding which lies beneath it. There is a sedateness and moderation to the prose which occasionally holds it below the level of excitement appropriate to the situations, but Morrison is a nice craftsman, and this failing is rare.
Man and Bombs
"To Make a World" is a book which deals deeply with the difficulties of judgement in a world where man often seems too small to control his own creations. Yet these creations can be controlled by man alone, and man must work with man to control them. The events since Alamagordo have added a new urgency to old, unsolved human problems.
Morrison's book will not appeal to everyone, for its excitements lack the superficial allure and color of romance or the imaginative shock-value of science fiction. They are so close to us all, so involved with the pressing necessity for thought and understanding in ordinary, unheroic people, that they preclude the possibility of any escapist pleasure. The book provokes mature and painful thought, and though its story is gripping, it cannot be read for entertainment alone.
This is its excellence: it honestly faces and thoroughly explores a situation from which our escape will be difficult. And the reader comes to feel, with Sam Norris, "I guess the hour has always been late... Someday it may really be late,, who knows? The bomb is about to fall, the apocalypse is overdue, we'd all better make up for lost time and apply ourselves to the true education."
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