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Reviews Whitewater. By Paul Horgan. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970. 337 pages, $6.95.) Whitewater is about a small town on the plains of Texas, in the late 1940’s. The main character is Phil Durham, a sensitive, intelligent, and studious senior in the local high school. Phil lacks animal spontaneity, but learns about it through his best friend, Billy Breedlove, the hero of the school and the town, a youngster so full of life and joy that young and old love him, making him the unwitting center of a town’s effort to have by dream and sublimation the love they cannot find in marriage, family, or friendship. Phil lacks, also, sophistication and its antidote, love of land, whatever land is yours; and this he begins to learn from Victoria, a kindly and under­ standing woman who has learned to feel the plains of Texas and the art of Paris, to love both and worship neither. And, in the climax of the novel, when Phil and Billy climb the town’s water tower to paint a sign of encouragement to the high school track team, Phil learns painfully of guilt and mutability, of the strange way that time and place can slip and change and return, since what has happened in the past is not yet through happen­ ing. Parallels will occur to the reader, most obviously John Knowles’ A Separate Peace, plus an enormous range of other works: Spoon River Anthology, Winesburg, Ohio, The City of Trembling Leaves, Eden Prairie, and so on. But it is the almost automatic occurrence of such comparisons that leads to a strange question. One feels he has already read this novel a hundred times, and yet it is a novel that is strikingly original. It may be that both the sense of familiarity and the sense of originality are fundamental to the power of Whitewater. The job of the artist is to capture with a fresh permanence our recurring and local story (the county archetype I have called it elsewhere), and Horgan, it seems to me, is Reviews 307 amazingly gifted in that job. To oversimplify, the novel seems familiar because it deals with experience so substantive to our lives that we have touched it ourselves, with variations, and read of it before, often in power­ ful works; and yet the novel seems totally new because, like all successful art, it makes an archetypal story come alive as if for the first time and creates an impact that is not merely a new version of the old but, rather, a revision, a re-writing of our personal history. Horgan’s frame for Whitewater, with its recurrent theme of secrecy, is essential to that revision. Whitewater is a town, or was a town, now buried beneath water backed up by a new dam; Phil is, after the story, a professor of history, specializing in the world of Beckford and Vathek. Within this frame, the story begins, with Phil and Billy, two high school friends, swimming naked, at night, to an island over the now-buried town of Whitewater to see if they can hear and understand the voices—without words or sentences—that have come to their campsite on another island. They, like the townspeople, each with his own secret, never do manage to make out what is being said, but Horgan knows, and throughout the novel he tells us what it is. M ax W estb ro o k , The University of Texas at Austin The Gun and the Glory of Granite Hendley. By Ned Conquest. (New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1969. 204 pages, $4.50.) Mark Twain used to say that Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley Novels had been a pernicious influence on the American South. His belief, which came close to obsession, was that the planter class of the early nineteenth century had used Scott’s fiction as a model for their own behavior, and by so doing had perpetuated a false chivalric ideal which corrupted the southern mind and led, albeit perhaps obliquely, to secession and the Civil War. It is impossible to say for sure what Twain would have thought of The Gun and Glory...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 306-307
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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