OLD ACQUAINTANCE by David Stacton.
Even in these one-worldly days of cultural colonies and jet-settlers, most U.S. authors trying to depict European sophistication seem indefinably out of their league, like children sashaying around in grown-up shoes. Not so David Stacton, who here recounts with relish and delight a nostalgic encounter between two Old World celebrities at an international film festival. Leading man is Charlie, a writer rich but long past his prime, an exquisite wit, mildly fond of young men, though he has been married four times. With his latest boy in tow, Charlie encounters an old cinemactress friend; she has a pretty girl companion, and such pairing off as occurs would come as no surprise to Rodgers and Hart. But for a baroque stylist like Stacton, the joke lies in the telling: at its best, Old Acquaintance is studded with aphorisms, lively with quips, and memorable as a kind of Continental September Song as it might have been written with book by Ludwig Bemelmans and added monologues by Oscar Wilde.
HOME IS THE SAILOR by Jorge Amado.
Brazilian tall tales may be a hair taller and several cubits broader than those told elsewhere, or so this elaborately old-fashioned bawdy comedy sets out to prove. Captain Vasco Moscoso de Aragão, Master Mariner, is in fact a master fake. Craving romance, he has procured himself a license as ship's captain, though he has never set foot on an oceangoing deck. At 60 he "retires" to the seaside resort of Periperi, with silver hair, splendiferous uniforms, and an inexhaustible fund of nautical whoppers ranging from heroic shipwreck to Arab dancers of more than Oriental splendor in bed. One fine day Vasco is asked to take command of a real ship. Unrattled, the sofa salt mounts the bridge, delegates all authority to the chief mate—until a moment arrives when he cannot escape command. But the very elements conspire to make him a hero and to prove a moral of sorts about the nature of man's dreams.
THE BELLS OF BICèTRE by Georges Simenon.
Best known for murder mysteries, Author Simenon here goes straight, trading in his Inspector Maigret for a new hero, Publisher René Maugras—and the similarity of names is the tip-off to the author's basically unchanging fascination with death and the tangles of men's motives. The death in question is Maugras' own, narrowly missed when he suffers a serious stroke: as the novel opens, he is coming to for the first time, unable to speak or move. Step by difficult step, he recovers; in the months of enforced idleness he ponders his career and his friends, his business associates and his alcoholic wife. As he ponders, he understands. Or does he? At novel's end he resumes control of his publishing empire, with one arm paralyzed but otherwise strangely unchanged. The book is skillful, meticulous, fascinating—but did Simenon really get his man?
TOMORROW WILL BE MONDAY by Katinka Loeser.
Thirteen short stories set in suburbia, in which the wife of Comic Novelist Peter De Vries lays sobering claim to the terrain of the heart where the knowledge of death stalks the good life. Several grandmothers are dying—two at home, one at last shunted off to a convalescent home. A middle-aged mother dies in an auto accident. A ten-year-old girl is about to die of leukemia. Two family cats are killed and mourned. Grim fare, tearjerkers even, but told with a sensitivity which at its best reaches beyond style to become something close to a stoic philosophy of life. The author knows and can sometimes convey some odd, obvious but ageless facts of death: there are no new ways of facing it; grief is less an emotion than a physical presence; the conspiracy of the living to forget death is called life, and that goes on.
A PLACE OF STONE by Jim Hunter.
An otherwise sound British critic has predicted that Jim Hunter, 24, "may well prove to be one of the great contemporary writers." Talent aside, the prediction is a plain impossibility: though Hunter has published three novels in the last four years, he is clearly not contemporary. His characters, spouting great gobbets of Weltschmerz in the grand Victorian manner, stride moors and seashores that are the welfare-state descendants of scenery loved by Hardy and the Brontës. Principal characters are an English painter, his wife, their two grown children, frozen in various attitudes of love, hate and sheer disdain—until the wife develops cancer. The book then examines the shifting feelings of the three members of the family as they watch the fourth member die. There is room for tragedy in such a theme, but in Hunter's hands, death itself can seem mannered and quaint.