Larry L. King has been called the Texan with a Mencken touch. And never has it been more evident than in his new collection of reportage about people \(like football and the Fink, writing in the Chicago Tribune Book World, says of Mr. King, “Mine is the timidity of the uptight citizen confronted by that most dangerous animal the outspoken, articulate social critic who is emotionally involved….There’s a touch of Shakespearean poetry in cranky old Larry King’s 20th-century soul.” And John Kenneth Galbraith comments, “It’s my single claim to literary eminence that I came to realize what a good writer Larry King is before most other people. Anyone who still doesn’t know is hopelessly retarded.” THE OLD MAN AND LESSER MORTALS BY Larry L. King $8.95 New york, N.Y. 10022 THE VIKING PRESS 625 Madison Avenue Bode’s version the millionth on record of the connection between psychoanalysis and aesthetics? Bode is so earnest about all this, so sincere in making pronouncements like “The land gives people who live close to it a certain innocence and grace.” There are even passages in Part I that indicate he knows now or knew then, for one does not know how much re-writing has gone on that his insights were not all he cracked awareness of how insubstantial is all this prolonged agonizing in print does not make the writing any better. One wants to be sympathetic. Bode is apparently a serious man going seriously about what he regards as the very serious business of living. At the last, in Part III over: he has moved on to the business of teaching high school, and living at last in a home of his own, and raising his children. He has come, he says, “to embrace a kind of divine idiocy,” by which he means he does not ponder the significance of everything he does. He still takes his walks, still cares for his roosters and his goat, still does the kind of things he did before. But there is a change: . . . A writer’s platform, a private look-out tower, where I sat inside myself, scouting the horizon for God, Meaning, Truth: it 18 The Texas Observer rotted away, leaving me hollow. … The platform is gone but then perhaps it was not everything. I am still all right with my trees and family and cotton fields. I am not desperate. Not yet. BEFORE THIS, Bode is busy being Alone: In the World: Looking. When he is not sketching some individual event, some scene in particular, he is explaining what he means by his sketching: I think I have been, without knowing it, trying to give life to things which have no voices. It is as though I want my words to set free the things which, without a voice, would have no meaning. It is as if I am saying to myself: There is beauty locked in many places; people will not find it unless you lend them your eyes and let them see. One is inclined to quibble over the aesthetics of the matter. First of all, Bode is doing two things at once: he is both disclaiming the grandeur of completeness, of “story-telling,” as he says \(“Stories are always going some place. .. . I had just as soon stop for a bug, or chicken droppings, as for a Raskolinikov because life has not yet proved to me that it values any one at the same time claiming a more direct contact with Life, claiming that his moments of observing detail bring him to direct revelations of the transcendental. In personal terms, one can only envy the man. But in literary terms, the thought occurs that epiphany, in Joyce’s original meaning \(“a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or is what Bode is attempting. And one thinks that Joyce has gotten much closer to a description of what he and Bode are both up to. After all, the medium for all this manifesting and lending is language, and Joyce at least shows an understanding of that fact. To aim at minimizing the interference of the words is so much more realistic. But if Bode wants to be the archetypal naive artist, if he wants to set himself that kind of goal, quibbles are of secondary importance. Besides, we have the sketches themselves, and there is something undeniably fine even if it is not what Bode thinks it is about them. Even if it is the language of them that has meaning and beauty, that’s something. There is this, a part of the sketch which ends Part I, the only truly first-rate thing from 1 954-6 1 : I pass rows of new apartment buildings. In an hour or so their outside walls will be lit with dim orange glows. The secretaries are already home from work, moving about on their thick carpets in their frosted-silver hair, readying prophylactics. If only these sketches were all the book contained; if only Bode hadn’t decided to compete with Nietzsche as an aphorist: the trouble is that his journals seem to have gotten awfully full of banalities, banally put, with no editor to eliminate entries like: Writing, for me, is an expression of a truth deeply felt and joyously perceived. Some people accept God all their lives. It seems I am to spend all my life hunting for Him. The story of any man, any person, is a strange and delicate thing. In all these flawed attempts there are two things going on. One is the private effort of Bode’s journals, the describing of an attempt at a certain relationship with the world. The ‘ word Bode uses is “wonder.” Bode wants to be still in a world of great riches, most of which are never appreciated by the people around him. But at the same time Bode wants to write about the things he wonders about, and to inspire in his readers the same sense of awe. One comes away wishing Mr. Bode well in his personal adjustment to the world, and wishing he were better at writing about it. J.F. But the greatest unreality is another set forth by Nixon in his State of the Union message the curious notion that he can decide for himself the extent to which he may or may not respond to subpoenas from the House Judiciary Committee in its formal constitutional inquiry into his possible impeachment. … That is like saying that a possible defendent can help the prosecutor decide what evidence to present to a grand jury. … Reality is closing in on Richard Nixon; and neither Ron Ziegler nor Hugh Scott can declare it inoperable and irrelevant. Tom Wicker, Feb. 4, 1974.