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308 WAL 36.3 F A L L 2001 From the thinly veiled names (Earth Forever!, Axxam Corporation) to treesitters (remember Julia Butterfly Hill?) to apocalyptic floods, Boyle taps into the cultural pulse of contemporary western environmentalism. A t the core, A Friend of the Earth suggests that both greens and non-greens are doomed because of consumerist tendencies. Environmentalists already recognize this as a central dilemma. But Boyle does question, in a fantastically written and entertaining way, what gains have been made and what approaches are avail­ able to activist organizations attempting to become friends of the earth in the midst of rampant consumption. Straight White M ale. By Gerald W. Haslam. R eno: U n iversity o f N ev ad a Press, 2000. 274 pages, $17.00. Reviewed by Delbert E. Wylder Tem ple, Texas Gerald Haslam is known on the West Coast as a “California” writer and, in short stories, novels, and essays, the chronicler of the Okie experience in the Central Valley, particularly the area around Bakersfield and its oil fields. That localizing critical perspective has always seemed a bit limiting, and it is espe­ cially so for this superb novel. All realistic novels must be set somewhere, and this is set in the Central Valley, though the Upton family has moved north from Bakersfield. It is also true that most of the characters are displaced “Okies,” who are being acculturated into Californians, but, because they are human beings, are having a diffi­ cult time of it. Old patterns, including patterns of speech, and old loyalties make adaptation to new ways almost, at times, impossible. Authors of realistic novels must also create “realistic” characters, those human beings caught in a changing world, carrying with them the baggage, both good and bad, given them by their parents and the culture their parents had adapted to, but which, over the years, has changed along with the radical phys­ ical and mental changes caused by the sun, work, pleasures, and just plain living. Leroy Upton, the narrator of both parts of the novel and a member of the “middle” generation, is responsible for a type of gritty realism that results from his refusal to leave behind the language and attitudes of his high school friends when they sometimes gather together. As Juanita, the wife of his friend Travis Plumley, says, they talk like “white trash” (130). Then there are Leroy’s realis­ tic, detailed descriptions of his father’s physical failings: the incontinence, fear of falling, and eating problems. Equally disturbing are the scenes where he describes visiting his mother in a nursing home, and we hear the sounds in all such places: the cries for help, the grunts, the howls of loneliness. The first two chapters of the novel roughly delineate the time frame: the first is dated 1952, the date of Leroy’s marriage to the pregnant Yvonne Trumaine, while the second is dated 1989, a preparatory scene for the final chapters, and B o o k R e v i e w s 309 one which emphasizes Leroy’s inability to come to terms with Yvonne’s early sex life and his vague doubts about the paternity of their first child. Outside of this time frame, three out of four chapters concentrate on the lives of the Upton family after they’ve moved to Northern California. Every fourth chap­ ter is dated and allows Leroy, still as first-person narrator, to describe significant events in his early life. By chapter 49, the last of Leroy’s autobiographical chap­ ters, he has brought his life to the point of his first date with Yvonne, an almost frantic sexual encounter. The remaining three chapters are, I’m sure, the most powerful writing Haslam has produced. He couldn’t have created anything more emotionally charged, more perfectly stated. The publicity statements about the novel suggest a comparison of Haslam’s realism with Steinbeck’s. In most respects, this novel is quite different, pri­ marily because of the first-person narration and the frequent linguistic crudi­ ties. In some respects, however, there is a striking similarity. In The Grapes of Wrath, there is one character who holds the family...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 308-309
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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