Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Discoveries

FAMILIAR SPIRITS A Memoir of James Merrill and David Jackson By Alison Lurie; Viking: 180 pp., $22.95

HOW I CAME INTO MY INHERITANCE And Other True Stories By Dorothy Gallagher; Random House: 188 pp., $22.95

THE CLOTHES THEY STOOD UP IN By Alan Bennett; Random House: 160 pp., $16.95

THE MIND OF THE C.E.O. By Jeffrey E. Garten; Perseus Books: 300 pp., $26

February 04, 2001|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

FAMILIAR SPIRITS A Memoir of James Merrill and David Jackson By Alison Lurie; Viking: 180 pp., $22.95

Here's one for the maw of the movie machine (just remember: One man's Oliver Stone is another's Merchant Ivory). For this memoir is, in one light, a kind of literary horror story. Alison Lurie met the poet James Merrill in Austria in 1950. He was 24, and she thought him "weedy." Five years later, she met him again in Amherst, Mass., with his "wonderfully attractive" partner of three years, the writer David Jackson. Merrill was the son of tycoon Charles Merrill, co-founder of Merrill-Lynch, and between them, Jimmy and David were very, very wealthy. Yet they chose, as Lurie writes, to live modestly (albeit in Maine, Greece and Key West) and to teach because they loved it. But the crux of this memoir is David's psychic nature and the couple's intense involvement with the Ouija board. This began in 1955 with their conjuring up a Greek spirit named Ephraim from AD 8 and going on to a whole host of characters, many literary, like W.H. Auden and Gertrude Stein, who came to dominate their lives. Much of Merrill's poetry contains these spirits and is set in what Lurie calls the "unreal world," though to Jimmy and David it was quite real. Jimmy became famous in the mid-1980s; David wallowed in obscurity. Lurie herself was alienated from the game when she was informed that in a past life, she had been a prudish second-rate intellectual missionary who was killed by the very heathens she preached to. Merrill, who died in 1995, was beset in old age by an admirer from Los Angeles who took David's place and whom Lurie doesn't seem to think much of. David is still alive but ghostly. It's astonishingly matter-of-fact, this memoir, considering what a fantastic tale it is, set in Greece and Key West and eerie old New England.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 18, 2001 Home Edition Book Review Page 2 Book Review Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
The review of Alison Lurie's "Familiar Spirits: A Memoir of James Merrill and David Jackson" (Book Review, Feb. 4) incorrectly stated their residency. Merrill and Jackson lived in Connecticut.

HOW I CAME INTO MY INHERITANCE And Other True Stories By Dorothy Gallagher; Random House: 188 pp., $22.95

Dorothy Gallagher was raised among the post-war progressives living mid-century on the margins of Manhattan. Her mother and father and extended family came from Brailov in Ukraine. They took the Daily Worker and sent their daughter to Labor Youth League camp in Upstate New York. Gallagher was born in 1941. She grew up on the edge of Harlem, on 167th Street. The worst insult you could hurl in her family was "spoiled American girl." These true stories are hilarious and alarming, including the title story, in which Gallagher has to outwit the con man who has charmed her ancient father into giving him what she considers her rightful inheritance. Or "How I became a Writer," with its opening lines: " 'Do you call this serious work, darling,' my mother said. It wasn't a question. I knew where she was coming from. I came from there myself." *

THE CLOTHES THEY STOOD UP IN By Alan Bennett; Random House: 160 pp., $16.95

Alan Bennett, in everything he writes, from "Beyond the Fringe," to "The Madness of George III" and now "The Clothes They Stood Up In," captures the absurdity and surreal essence of British society. Mr. and Mrs. Ransome have been married for 32 years when their modestly appointed home is robbed. Everything is taken. When they find their flat has been reassembled in a storage area and occupied by another couple for several months (everything is returned), they are deprived, Mrs. Ransome thinks, first of their possessions and "then of the chance to transcend that loss." After the robbery, they are never the same. Mr. Ransome's previous love of Mozart is invested in sexual obsession; Mrs. Ransome takes to feeling and expressing. Bennett is fascinated with the porcelain fragility of behavior. He follows the fissures in the Ransome's broken lives all the way to the bitter end. *

THE MIND OF THE C.E.O. By Jeffrey E. Garten; Perseus Books: 300 pp., $26

We must tear down boundaries, so ideas can flow, Jeffrey E. Garten quotes General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, one of 40 CEOs Garten interviewed for this book. CEOs must be more "proactive" in "shaping the environment." There is much change and uncertainty in the business environment, each one of Garten's interviewees intones. The word "revolution" is used a lot, but not in the traditional sense of the oppressed rising up to demand their due. It's used in the sense of an earthquake, a phenomenon that threatens the status quo. Throughout, the rhetoric of change championed in the book is betrayed by the language of the book. These people, Garten says proudly of his CEOs "are the top of the pyramid" (so much for an end to outdated hierarchy). CEOs aren't fired; they "topple." CEOs don't make mistakes; they experience "vulnerability." Same old, same old. Vulnerability doesn't make you topple. Hubris does.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|