Voices in America: Bicentennial Conversations, Bernard Murchland (Prakken Publications, Ann Arbor, Mich.: $20). The author has interviewed 16 Americans whose verbiage and visage will be familiar to most of us--from Norman Cousins and Geraldine Ferraro to Studs Terkel and Edward Teller. Yet, while this 253-page book might be overpriced, it is not reiterative by any means, for these voices are freshly energized by Bernard Murchland's unusual, probing questions about American values. Often heard as authorities responding to a day's ephemera, these scientists, politicians, authors and journalists open their hearts as well as minds in these pages, forwarding more enduring, if still unpolished, political philosophies.
Confidence and glibness, Murchland realizes, can be counterproductive, for "America, more than any other country, was born in debate, in the groping character of the deliberations in this country, the hesitancy and uncertainty." Some will undoubtedly find that Murchland has let his subjects ramble to excess, allowing historian Henry Steele Commager, for instance, to criticize Americans for losing their earlier creative energy, then argue that education costs too much, and then assert that "we need more humor." The book might have benefitted from a chapter summarizing the leaders' views. Still, some areas of consensus can be espied: Nuclear war tops the list of concerns, while all wistfully hope for a better-informed electorate.
Father Loss: Daughters Discuss the Man That Got Away, Elyce Wakerman (Holt: $8.95). While written from a woman's perspective, this book sheds light on larger topics ranging from father-child relationships to bereavement. A writer for popular psychology and family magazines, Elyce Wakerman is forthcoming about her own father's death when she was 3, acknowledging that she longed for her father's applause when she completed each chapter of this book and confessing that "in my father's image I created a god. He alone among adults remained wise and all-knowing." Wakerman's proximity to her subject is sometimes a disadvantage, for it dissuades her from considering related issues, such as the similarities and differences between father-son and father-daughter relationships.
Wakerman, however, makes a laudable effort to broaden the scope of her book. Teaming up with a psychologist, she developed a questionnaire to which 600 women responded. The survey showed that glorification of father can lead to disappointment in later relationships ("In my fantasy," says one woman, "he remains the perfect, all-giving man--a difficult role for any other man to fulfill"). The attraction also can be inspiring: "He dominated my life as long as he lived," said Eleanor Roosevelt, "and was the love of my life for many years after he died." Perhaps most interesting in the book is the author's reconciliation of this dilemma: "My fiercest desires were at odds--to be secure and protected in the love of a man, and to prove that I could succeed in the world on my own."
The Magic Listening Cap: More Folk Tales From Japan, Yoshiko Uchida (Creative Arts, Berkeley, Calif.: $6.95). Succinct and unaffected, these stories might seem prosaic to readers who favor the new wave of hip, affected and oblique American fiction. Those searching for a sense of equanimity and direction, however, will value Yoshiko Uchida's simple, graceful parables about human nature. Uchida, a prominent Japanese-American writer living in Berkeley, surveys and affirms social convention in her stories, underscoring the importance of propriety. Typical of Uchida's work is "The Tubmaker Who Flew to the Sky," which begins with simple meditations on form (the crafting of "great wide tubs for baths, tall high barrels for wine (and) short squat tubs for soy sauce"), and then magically transports the craftsman to the clouds, where he helps the Thunder God make rain.
After falling victim to hubris ("Have some rain, little people," he cries, "have some rain!"), he's abruptly sent back to Earth, where he discovers the importance of "keeping both feet planted firmly on the ground." Some of the stories never reach their moralistic mark--"The Fox and the Bear," for example, is an uninspired retelling of the old duel between honesty and deceit--but most succeed in defining our limits and sensing our possibilities; in one story, for instance, a young man purchases an old man's dream and works through the long, cold winter" until it comes true.