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The Harvard Advocate

On the Shelf

By Michael J. Halberstam

It is probably unfair to both the Advocate and James Buechler to begin a review of the magazine's Spring Issue with an evaluation of his contribution, but "1936, War in Spain" is simply aching for criticism. According to the Advocate Notes, Buechler says his story is "political," and that he wrote it shortly after reading a book by George Orwell.

How Orwell would have laughed that he, the lover of the clean direct English language, could have inspired such writing as Buechler's! For example: "But time was when a grown man, maybe he was middle-aged already, and standing square on his own two feet in his overcoat and suit and vest, malory fedora, the best necktic he had left and a watch chain if he'd held on to it, was a grateful man to have it, and a college graduate." Orwell would have laughed and said, "Come off it, Buechler," and as usual he would have been right.

There's no doubt that Buechler has an eye for detail and a feeling for character, and thus it is a pity that he clouds what he has to say by a garbled narrative that is neither stream-of-consciousness nor adult conversation nor childhood recall. Although this style intrigued me to the point of distraction, I did gather that Buechler's story was an attempt to conjure up the spirit of the men who left their homes to join the Lincoln Brigade and fight Franco. I don't think the deep and unseeing idealism of these men quite comes through; Buechler's main character seems more like a burbling Scout Master than someone who could have fought side-by-side with Orwell in Catalonia.

The Advocate has two interesting stories by its Radcliffe contributors. In "The Magic Circle" Cynthia Rich has captured the spirit and mind of a child without writing childishly repetitive sentences and without resorting to mystic thought about Youth. Why does a child cry for no reason at all? Because of the way the waves at the beach come crashing down and because of the way a man with a black hairy chest can stare at a little boy. There is no pretentiousness here, only honest insight.

Paula Budlong, much enamoured of the terrifying Shirley Jackson, has written a story of a sleepy town which feeds on terror. The ending is somewhat weak in that the ultimate disaster is not really forced by the townspeople, but on the whole it is a fascinating tale.

Usher Moren's "II Vecchio" is such a fine parody of Hemingway that it is a shame Mr. Moren intended it as a serious story. A situation in which three barbers mourn the fate of a fourth whom age has forced back to the last chair in the shop is a true parody of all Hemingway's aging bullfighters and fishermen, especially when Mr. Moren has someone say, "He is an old man and cuts well and it is truly a terrible thing."

It should also be pointed out that Hemingway's Italians spoke in this peculiarly stylized way because he gave a fairly literal translation from the Italian. As Mr. Moren's story takes place not in Italy but truly in another country, this seems not only out of place but incorrect. At least the barbers in the Harvard Barber Shop don't speak English that way--and I, for one, can't follow their Italian, infrequent as it is.

"The Cat's Cradle" contains the most accomplished writing in the issue, which is no surprise, coming as it does from F. Kimball's ecclesiastic phase. I boggled a bit at the ending which, though perfectly consistent and the hinge of the story, was slightly theatrical.

John Ratte's cover is excellent and Stanley Polumbo's rendition of Oedipus' encounter with the Sphinx is colloquial without being dull, poetic without being poetical. According to the Notes, Judith Johnson, author of "The Tide Begins to Ebb" ("I have gone through the streets/ and studied every motion that I made ..."), "writes poems, plays and stories. She is a freshman living in Cabot Hall."

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