Residue Of Hatred In Havana

Flush Times by Warren Miller. Little, Brown and Company. 370 pp. $3.95

Liberals in this country have blathered a great many easy, perfunctory mea culpas over Cuba, but will not accept real responsibility for the tragedy in the Caribean.

Yes, we turned the island into a bordello, a dump and a gambling casino for over half a century; but it was Dr. bearded maniac who imposed an anti-American character on that pure little revolution.

May be we acted inflexibly and impolitically in cutting the sugar quota, severing relations and sabotaging their economy; but Castro's readiness to accept Soviet support proves him a congenital communist. And now that he has (or had) missile bases, the mistakes of the past are irrelevant, anyway.

In confronting these cliched, silly estimates of what happened in Cuba, Warren Miller's new novel undertakes an important job. Stylistically, however, the-author dissipates his energy in a sluggish attempt at parable as he describes Jonathan Weller, a wealthy, purposeless North American, adrift in Havana during the winter of '58-'59. Driving relentlessly toward the city is Revolution, a process that will free Havana of a mortification so extensive that Weller fails to sense its reality. And in this kind of blindness, in assuming that a nation can exist as a playground for him and his, Weller stumbles toward his own degradation as well as Cuba's.

Unfortunately, Miller has chosen to tell his story in terms of Jonathan Miller's libido, and even this loses its feeling with four chapters to go. Dissolution and impotence characterize his relations with a series of middle-aged rejects, prostitutes, and pin-up horrors. Hope and a hint of life's finer promise, however, is embodied in an 18 year old Fidelista named Celia Chang.

Why Miller makes the bed a showcase of social alternatives is unclear. His montage of dissolution is cute, repetitive and incoherent. Miller used a similar pattern skillfully in The Cool World a, novel about a young Harlem gang leader whose life became tragic when Miller contrasted his talents, intelligence and aspiration against a hopeless milieu. But the skill is gone.

Miller had a feeling in that the earlier book for the humane potential world he described. Here, however, he loses his drama precisely because he fails to treat revolutionary Cuba with more than haphazard obesiance to its real promise.

Coming after his thrilling documentary account of the Revolution's impact on 90 Miles from Home, Miller's novel is a thudding disappointment. It served only to impart the political message you can't hold a nation down without staying down with it.