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64 Western American Literature talents as an intelligent reporter to organize a vast wealth of material in a readable style that is oftentimes literate and graceful as well. Admittedly, it is a sadder-but-wiser book that leaves one feeling a bit down at the end — and the ending itself is just what it should be. Rut then, that’s the way it is. Mr. Fradkin has written an admirable book, and all of us who care about the West and its rivers are in his debt. ANN H. ZWINGER Colorado Springs, Colorado Writers in Residence: American Authors at Home. By Glynne Robinson Betts. With an Introduction by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt. (New York: A Viking Press Studio Book, 1981. 159 pages, $16.95.) A modest, serious enough coffee-table book, Glynne Betts’s Writers in Residence is at once fascinating for the scope and diversity of American liter­ ature it communicates, and maddening for the arbitrary nature of its selection of authors and inconsistency of aim. Although Betts admits having chosen writers from her “lifetime list of personal favorites,” there is difficulty in justifying the exclusion of Thoreau, Dickinson, Frost, and Steinbeck (to name a few), and the inclusion of writers like Helen and Scott Nearing, Paul Lau­ rence Dunbar, Maurice Sendak, and Ross Macdonald. Betts feels that her list reflects the “wide variety of personalities and ways of living that is particularly American,” which it does; but what we have is a photo album containing certain authors because of the places (counties, towns, houses) they wrote about, and others because they have interesting houses or apart­ ments, or because their offices are filled with revealing clutter. So there are brilliant photo-essays on Faulkner, Cather, Wolfe, etc., and stylish Sunday supplement-type features on Gordon Parks, John Jay Osborn, Annie Dil­ lard, etc. The book is divided according to regions, taking us from New England to the Mid-Atlantic states, from the South to the Midwest and then the West. Despite this arrangement, frontier-oriented writers like Melville and Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Sandburg appear more “western” than, say, Henry Miller, Anais Nin and Ray Bradbury, among those Betts includes in her “West” group. On her visit to the Sandburg home in Flat Rock, N. C., Betts was cautioned by a retired city slicker, “Don’t ever lose the country in you,” which is what the former writers never did. Theirs are among the best pieces in the book, and with those on Wolfe, Cather, Lewis, Waters and Jeffers easily worth $16.95. The eccentricities of the Alcotts’ Orchard House in Concord, the classic elegance of the Longfellow and Wharton mansions, the quiet taste of Irving’s Sunnyside and Stowe's Hartford house, as well as the Reviews 65 Victorian excesses of Twain’s folly next door, contrast dramatically with the “country” settings, with Robinson Jeffers’s rough stone Tor House by the sea in Carmel and the rambling ranch near Taos Frank Waters has filled with artifacts from his extensive collection of Indian art. While the quality and informative nature of Betts’s text are uneven, her black and white photographs are consistently excellent. The writer’s world is a world of things, physical items, yet hardly a physical world because its things suggest realities beyond the physical. Betts’s photograph of the old megaphone radio Sinclair Lewis bought after the publication of Main Street for the father whose unyielding nature drove him from home tells a poignant story, as does the bleak hallway lighted by a single naked bulb in Dixieland, the Asheville, N. C., “great chill boarding house tomb” owned and operated by Thomas Wolfe’s mother. The crude self-portrait of Flannery O’Connor with broad-brimmed hat and pheasant cock in the sitting room of Andalusia tells of an energetic genius whose early departure leaves a definite void in the white farmhouse about which her peafowl strut. Indian artifacts and cowboy memorabilia in Zane Grey’s rambling house in Lackawaxen, Pa., tell of an imaginative home two thousand miles from where the author lived. Betts knows how to speak in photographs, and how to group them; one hopes that she will turn her...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 64-65
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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