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6 ^* ,£».-«- ^l Z Big Dreams: Into the Heart of California by BUl Barich Pantheon Books, 1994, 560 pp., $24 BUl Barich is a personal essayist whose previous works include Laughing in the Hills, about his love of horses and lust for gambling. In his latest book, Big Dreams, he takes a leisurely wander through California, north to south, stopping where he feels like it, talking to all kinds of people, lacing the past to the present through historical anecdotes and details. Barich's main business is California of the 1990s. He wanders the wine country, where an acre of land goes for fifty thousand dollars and growing grapes is a very risky business. He tries to camp in an overcrowded Yosemite and is rebuffed because he doesn't have an advance ticket. Barich has an intimate , conversational style, trusting his reader to foUow him, changing tones and moods without apology. He doesn't worry about coming up with any overwhelming Major New Ideas about California when some of the old truisms about it are more relevant. Two of them: California is the land where the price of real estate rules Ufe ($300K median home price in San Frandsco, $457K in Palo Alto); it is also the land of massive, sometimes fractious ethnic diversity, with eighty ethnic groups in Fresno County alone. Barich can roU from powerful, rhetorical prose to just clunking along humanly observing things, and he can play aU the tonal scales, from tirade to lyridsm. One of the most refreshing aspects of this book is that its author feels no compulsion to pretend that he is making contact with a place when he isn't. In Death VaUey he never reaUy finds his groove, and eventuaUy he wanders out toward the beUy of the beast, L.A., "the world's first postapocalyptic, postmodern, postliterate dty, a place with absolute boundaries that floated freely beyond the grasp of history, parody , and any concerns other than the momentary." The author has a heart-to-heart with a high-powered movie agent who gives him a list of the downand -dirty truths of HoUywood: Ifs a smaU town where everybody knows not just what everybody, else is worth, but also whether they're working at the moment. Ifs a deeply conservative town where fear is the prime mover, and it doesn't pay to be brave; a losing movie means that that kind of movie is avoided for two years. There are only six actors in town who can "open a movie," the agent teUs him, and "Bobbie De Niro" ain't one of them. HoUywood's a threshing machine for young wom206 · The Missouri Review en, where there's always a Julia Roberts, here today, gone tomorrow . Barich leaves his power lunch with the agent delivering her last chestnut: "In HoUywood it isn't enough to succeed. Your best friend must also fail." He lets this little example of hard-boiled reaUsm drop without comment, leaves the agent orbiting in her ionosphere of omnipotence, and goes on to more interesting things—larger Los Angeles. Like a lot of the best travel essayists, Barich doesn't hide it when he's feeling out of sorts with his subject, but unUke many of them he doesn't let his annoyance get out of hand. He is every bit as good a rhetoridan as Joan Didion or Paul Theroux, but not driven by such a need to see it aU in a single Ught. For that reason, you trust him more. This is a surprising and wonderful book—the kind you read slowly because you don't want it to end. The Man in the Mirror by Clare Brandt Random House, 1994, 360 pp., $25 Previous biographies of Benedict Arnold have emphasized various aspects of his Ufe and miUtary career, but aU have stopped short of fuUy analyzing the man behind the legend. In The Man in the Mirror, Clare Brandt painstakingly re-examines the life of history 's most infamous turncoat. Drawing on extensive archival research, Brandt presents a psychobiography that explores Arnold's psychological motives for betrayal, and attempts to recondle Arnold, the patriot hero, with Arnold the traitor. Throughout his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 206-218
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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