October 24, 2020

1986-04-08 – The Pittsburgh Press

1986 04 08 The_Pittsburgh_Press_Tue__Apr_8__1986_

Story collection centers on views rather than reality

’ IN THE PENN Y ARCADE by Steven Millhauser. Alfred A. Knopf Inc.

By Doug Rice

Steven Millhauser delights in discovering life where there is no blood or
flesh. The characters in the seven stories of Millhauser’s first collection, “in
the Penny Arcade,” are freed from the restrictive clutches of the physical as
the normal is uncannily transformed into the magical. Each story explores
different ways of looking rather than different realities.

Philoso hically this collection is a marvelous attempt to recapture eyes
that have een lost or, at best, merely outgrown. Bitter disappointments are
avoided only when these eyes have been reclaimed.

In the title story, a 12-year.old boy struggles with the complications of
growing two years older. When all is quiet, when angst is closest. however, he
looks out of a dark. nearly forgotten corner and the magic returns to a world
close to death.

A boy in another story, “Snowmen," awakes to the birth-giving power of
snow. Instead of freezing the world in silence, the snow releases buried
treasures of subtle movement. “It had snowed with such abandon, such fervor,
such furious delight,” the firstperson narrator muses, “that I could not
understand how that wildness of snowing had failed to wake me with its white

Snow has the same potency in “The Sledding Party," a rhythmical story of
words and images that nearly becomes a song. In this story, Millhauser


creates his most complete and significant character. As the “festive and
solemn” snow “turns everything into odd shapes,” a simple half-spoken “love
you" sets Catherine, the protagonist, spinning.

For all the exuberance and imagination in this collection there is an
irritating deficiency. Character and narrative voice are oddly missinf in most
of the stories. Too often the stories an ar to be vehicles for authoria feats of
legerdemain rather than worlds fill with personality and change. Although
each story is fired with a critical crisis, the center of consciousness fails to en-

gage the intimate concern of the reader.
HORSE'S NECK by Peter Townshend. Houghton Mifflin Co. $12.95.

Peter Townshend wrote “My Generation” for The Who. His lyrics have ex-
pressed nearly everything needed to be expressed for an instant of history.

Now he has written “Horse’s Neck" — rt memoir, part fiction.
Townshend’s prose, unlike his lyrics, is a sop omoric collage of garbled

As a stylist he relies on simple sentence structure. As a storyteller he fails


miserabl: to tell a coherent tale. And his vocabulaiflis like that of an imma-
ture min that has stumbled upon James Joyce and grcel Proust but has 00‘
developed the intellectual depth to understand their works. .

Perhaps Townshendhas something he wants to express, hilt h? _13¢"3 a V9?"
cle for expressing it. “Horse's Neck” is filled with terrible writing and trite

CLINICAL TALE by Oliver Sacks. Summit Books. 315.95. 4

Dr. Oliver Sacks’s case histories, compiled in “The Man th Mistoek His;
Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales,” go beyond the abstraction of disease I
and the opacity of mere data to study patients as realities physmally. .
spiritually and ps chologically struggling against an actual presence that IS ‘
destroying their 'ves. . _ . '

These studies are somewhat unusual, because they focus on the indmdual
and his particular life. Sacks examines the way the disease becomes a part 9f
the person. In fact, the collection is a study of relationships — of a man to his
disease as well as of the disease to the man.

“The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" is divided into four parts: Ex-
cesses, Losses, Transmrts (or phenomenal travel) and The World of the
Simple. Within each part, Sacks includes various studies. _Although each study
seems strange enough to be a “tale,” they are realities.

(Don Rice is an instructor in crea tive wn'ting and a candidate for a doctor-
ate at emple University in Philadelphia. He has taught at La Roche College
and Duquesne University here.)