Jonathan Livingston Seagull, feathered allegory

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is an Allegory. Just so you don’t miss the point, author Richard Bach thoughtfully capitalizes Important Words.

A grainy photograph of a seagull is on the dust jacket cover of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Russell Munson’s photos accompany Bach’s narrative.

Jonathan is No Ordinary Bird. Although no gulls are killed when he dives at 214 miles an hour into the breakfasting flock, Jonathan is expelled from the flock for for “reckless irresponsibility.”

In exile, he practices flying, neglecting to eat, until he is called to a better place where he meets other gulls who also live to fly.

After spending some time in the better place in the sky, Jonathan returns to earth and gathers disciples whom he teaches to consider themselves “special and gifted and divine.”

Some of Jonathan’s disciples consider him the Son of the Great Gull but he’s not. He merely wants his followers to “reach out an touch perfection” in the thing they most love to do.

Jonathan leaves them after instructing them to Go Make Disciples who will devote their lives to doing whatever they want to do.

Fortunately, this paean to the totally self-centered life is short.

Its 93 pages are already as nauseating as a gull’s breakfast.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
Photographs by Russell Munson
Macmillan, © 1970. 93 p.
Bestseller #1 in 1972 and 1973. My grade: C-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni


Rabbit Redux is a literary Pompeii

Rabbit Redux is the second volume of what would become John Updike’s four-book series about Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. Although Redux is peppered with allusions to Rabbit, Run, readers who haven’t read that will feel slightly out of place.

Red, gray and blue striped cover suggests things out of whack in Rabbit Redux
The moon landing happens during Rabbit Redux.

The novel is set in 1969 in Brewer, a small Pennsylvania city whose neon outskirts conceal a decaying core left by the middle class folks like the Angstroms fleeing to the suburbs.

Harry takes the bus (“It stinks of Negroes.”) to work downtown. Janice drives the car to her job so she can meet her lover conveniently.

Janice moves in with her boyfriend.

Invited to a seedy bar by a black man with whom he works, Harry agrees to give a bed to a runaway, who says she’s 18 and drug free.

He brings Jill home; soon she and Harry’s son, 13-year-old son Nelson, are pals and Jill’s sharing Harry’s bed.

Then Jill brings home a black drug pusher wanted by police and things get complicated.

Reading Updike is like visiting Pompeii today: You see ordinary people going about ordinary lives captured as their world blew up and caught them unaware.

Rabbit Redux would be worth reading just for it’s glimpse into American culture circa 1969.

Rabbit Redux by John Updike
Knopf, ©1971 [my copy, 1981] p. 407
1971 bestseller #10. My grade: B+

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Other: Plausible horrors

In The Other, Thomas Tryon does something few horror stories do: He makes the horrific plausible enough to happen.

Boy's head set within the O of The Other on an otherwise empty front cover suggests secrets.
Peek through the key hole into The Other.

The story is set in the 1930s in a small Connecticut town where everybody knows everybody else’s business.

The narrative is buttressed by monologues by an unnamed person who recalls various bits of history from Pequot Landing, Conn. The person is confined in an upper floor room in some unnamed institution.

The Perry twins, Niles and Holland, are close, not just because of their twinship, but because their father died in an accident the previous fall, their mother is emotionally fragile and drinks, and their household is run by the boy’s maternal grandmother, Ada.

The boys are temperamental opposites: Holland is easily angered and sadistic; Niles is gentle and loving, with an uncanny ability to think himself into the role of animals.

Tryon lays the story out as a mystery, with plenty of clues for the alert reader.

The novel gets its impact from the fact that the novel’s characters have the same clues available and fail to recognize their significance, just as the California neighbors of David and Louise Turpin failed to put their clues together.

The Other by Thomas Tryon
Knopf, 1971, 280 p.
1971 bestseller #9  My grade: B+

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Drifters roots for the rootless

The Drifters is a big novel about six rootless young people and two much older men whose addresses are poste restante.

White, red and gold text on black are only elements on The Drifters dust jacket.
This copy of The Drifters has circulated.

Initially, it seems a surprising departure for James A. Michener, noted for big, place-based novels, such as Hawaii and The Source, but it becomes an exploration of how Vietnam-era youth became alienated from the societies in which they grew up and what it would take for them to put down roots.

The stories of the six young people are narrated by a 60-something financial deal maker for an insurance company. His work takes him around the world to find good investments.

Divorced and alienated from his own son, Mr. Fairbanks meets some of the youth in the course of his work and is introduced to the others through them.

Fairbanks introduces the young people to ex-Marine Harvey Holt, a communications technician who works in remote places, but comes every year to run with the bulls in Papaloma.

From the dust jacket descriptions, the young people bumming in Europe and North Africa sound like caricatures of ‘sixties figures. By showing Fairbanks’ efforts to understand them, Michener makes them feel very real.

Through The Drifters, I found myself understanding somewhat today’s right-wing youth who want their countries back.

The Drifters: A Novel by James A. Michener
Random House, ©1971, 751 p.
1971 bestseller #8. My grade: A

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Winds of War: WWII history in stories

Herman Wouk’s 1971 bestseller, The Winds of War, immerses readers in world history from 1939 to December 1941, showing great leaders as ordinary men and ordinary men as great leaders.

Dark clouds are background for title and author info
Winds of War bring storm clouds over Europe.

The story is told through the experiences of an American naval family — Commander Victor “Pug” Henry, his wife, and their three children — and the people who matter to them: the sons’ wives and their families, the prominent people the daughter meets in her work for a popular national radio show.

Pug is sent at President Roosevelt’s behest to “observe” on behalf of the military in Berlin, England, and Russia. He meets Hitler, Churchill, Stalin.

When Germany invades Poland, one son, who was working in Europe, is trapped along with American Jewish woman with whom he’s fallen in love.

The other son, a navy pilot,marries the senate’s most outspoken opponent to American intervention in a European war. He’s at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese bomb it.

Wouk lets all these characters take readers around the world to get a 360-degree view of what led each of the participants into World War II.

Amazingly, Wouk makes every character a believable human being.

The Winds of War is the reading you would have liked to have had in history class.

The Winds of War by Herman Wouk
Little, Brown. [1971] 888 p.
1971 bestseller #7. My grade: A+

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Message from Málaga: Suspense for the cerebral

After a week of business related to his U.S. Space Agency job, Ian Ferrier stops in Málaga, Spain, to visit Jeff Reid. Ian and Jeff worked together eight years before, gathering evidence of Khrushchev’s rocket installations in Cuba.

Flamenco music, US flag and communist hammer-and-sickle are incorporated into art on dust jacket of Message from Malaga
Music, flamenco dancing, and politics mingle.

Now Jeff works for an American wine importer, and Ian’s current work entails scanning the skies for another Cuba-type crisis, this time satellite-based.

Jeff remembers Ian’s love of flamenco and takes him to see the local flamenco star, Tavita, dance.

Before the evening is over, Jeff meets a man claiming to be a defector from the assassination division of Cuba’s Foreign Intelligence Service. As he goes to alert his superiors to the defector’s demands, Jeff is the victim of a cyanide attack.

Barely alive when Ian finds him, Jeff confides in Ian, who becomes a de facto CIA agent when Jeff is assassinated.

Message shows why Helen MacInnes became known for “highly literate” spy novels. Readers must be as alert as the intelligence operatives.MacInnes’s story is tense but restrained. Readers seeking explosions and high-speed chases should look elsewhere.

So too should readers who want James Bond-ish sex romps. Ian appreciates beautiful women but he’s not going to risk his life to bed one.

Message from Málaga by Helen MacInnes
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich [1971] 367 p.
1971 bestseller #6. My grade: B+

‘The Betsy’: Smaller ‘Wheels’, quicker start

Angelo Perino, a retired race car driver, is hired by “Number One,” Loren Hardeman, to design and build a totally new automobile to be called The Betsy after his granddaughter.

Engineer's drawing of sporty car with BETSY on its license plate
Drawing showing the Betsy’s hood.

Although 91 and confined to a wheelchair, Number One is prepared to commit his entire personal and corporate fortune to the project, as is independently wealthy Perino.

There’s a catch: the entire project must be kept secret until the first Betsy rolls off the production line.

Bethlehem Motors, founded in the days of Henry Ford, diversified under Hardeman’s son and grandson. In 1969, CEO “Loren 3” is looking for an opportunity to unload the auto business, keeping only Bethlehem’s more profitable product lines such as washing machines.

The Betsy gets off to a lusty start with the male lead in bed with a auto racing groupie, and keeps up the supercharged sex to the end.

Unlike the whole-industry approach of Arthur Hailey’s Wheels, Harold Robbins’ focus on a single company makes for easier storytelling, although Robbins indulges in frequent and distracting flashbacks.

The main story is mildly interesting, scattered with intriguing bits of information, but it not sufficiently interesting that the dramatic end to the automobile project will be regretted by readers.

The Betsy by Harrold Robbins
Trident Press, ©1971, 502 pages
1971 bestseller #5. My grade: C

Reviewer’s note: the art is from the cover of the First Charnwood Edition of The Betsy, published in 1984 in Great Britain.

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni