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72 Western American Literature deadly apathy and dumb despair” (239). Withal, it is clear that Funston took command of The City without permission of civic officials and that acts of brutality did occur. When General Adol­ phus W. Greely arrived nearly a week after the earthquake, he relieved Funston and imposed his own strong, but legal and evenlyadministered regime. Reading a large selection of books on the 1906 earthquake, it should in fairness be noted, reveals that many citizens at the time praised the army for imposing a form of order. Thomas and Witts present an argument that the consensus felt differently, or should have. This is an interesting book. It was written for a popular audi­ ence, so it lacks detailed validation that would make some of the au­ thors’ assertions more convincing; the reader is often left to take one source’s word rather than another’s, with the authors’ assurances that their source is more reliable. In any case, more formal valida­ tion would help. The book does contain an extensive and very useful bibliography, as well as enough fresh information to make it a valuable and readable resource. Gerald Haslam, Sonoma State College Fire Sermon. By Wright Morris. (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1971. 155 pages, $5.95.) What is one to make of Wright Morris? Perhaps the least well known of his generation’s major writers he is something of a cult author. His fiction has attracted a passionate body of aficionados, and his techniques and literary vision have profoundly influenced many writers younger than he. Yet for all his significance, he remains more or less unknown. Winner of a National Book Award (in 1957 for The Field of Vision) he has nonetheless consistently failed to attract a large audience. One can see why on the basis of his latest novel, Fire Sermon. The reader who, unlike this reviewer, is not already hopelessly “hooked” on Morris’s fiction will in all probability continue to remain both cool to his work and honestly bewildered by what all the fuss is about. All Morris’s often alleged faults— that is, those traits which have rendered him a difficult and unamiable author in the past—are here with a vengeance. The plot of the novel is, at the most, slight: the chronicle of an uneventful trip in an old Maxwell towing a house trailer from California to Nebraska by an old man, a young boy, and two hippie hitchhikers (a Weatherman named Stanley and his girlfriend Joy) picked up along the way. The characters are few, and character development is Reviews 73 minimal: but for an occasional walk-on part the cast consists of the four travellers and the old man’s dead sister, who appears only through her letters. Psychological interest, at least in any conventional sense, is also hopelessly limited: the point of view of the novel is uncompromisingly external, a quasi-comic vision which vacillates between the boy and the old man and between the past and present tenses of the English language. I have an uneasy feeling— based at none too many removes on my own attitudes—that the true Morris aficionado is one who is passionately involved with a presently unfavorable critical notion, that of the power of “archetypes,” whatever these may be. To such an individual Morris is infinitely fascinating. If one is the kind of person in whose soul Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad trilogy, or Kris Kristofferson’s “Bobby McGee,” or Paul Simon’s “The Boxer,” or Charlie Badger’s “Spanish is a Lovin’ Tongue” strikes a deep and responsive chord, one is likely to be the kind of person who is profoundly moved by Morris’s fiction. One is also likely to have a difficult time explaining his emotions to more rationally oriented types who find the notion of wind­ shield wipers slapping time while weary travellers sing totally unmoving and even faintly absurd. Nevertheless, this it seems to me is Morris’s fictional country. That his vision is comic makes it none the less serious; and that his point of view is external makes it none the less moving. The reader whose emotions are uninvolved when the old Maxwell...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 72-73
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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