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to rob, to exploit and to dominate, to undertake any course of action to ensure that existing privilege is protected and advanced.” Such a principle requires that the American public be led on a bewildering trip through terrorland, where right can be both right and wrong, where only violence will achieve peace, where security resides solely in mutually assured destruction, where cleaning up nuclear facilities only becomes essential when the facilities endanger the effectiveness of our bombs. Calling this “social pathology” a “grim tradition,” Chomsky calls on the American public to “have the integrity to look into the mirror without evasion.” We will not like what we see, he tells us, but if we are honest, we must acknowledge a “serious moral responsibility, which should be obvious enough.” Of course, all this flies in the face of America’s perception of itself as a benevolent state. After all, we give billions in aid to countries all over the globe. Straightforward humanitarian aid, right? Who could accuse us of international political blackmail? We must protect the right-minded forces in El Salvador or the peasants might have them for lunch. Chomsky’s assertions fly in the face of America’s perception of itself as an informed and enlightened citizenry. Just because we have the highest illiteracy rate of any developed country, just because our military technical manuals have had to be rewritten at a seventh-grade reading level, just because we state our considered opinions on world events in 30-second sound bites, these things have no effect on the correctness of our world view. Right? Chomsky finds that such things do have an effect, concluding that we are benevolent only when it is in our self-interest to be so, and informed only to the extent that the administration in power will allow. These are powerful and disturbing conclusions, which pose for us all a “serious moral responsibility, which should be obvious enough.” But even more disturbing is the conclusion that, in essence, Qaddafi and other Third World leaders may be right in calling the U.S. a terrorist state even if this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black: The evidence which Chomsky presents and it is abundant and well documented leaves a very bad taste in the mouth and a sinking feeling in the pit of this reviewer’s stomach. Aside from the INS treaty, which was surely as much Gorbachev’s doing as Ronald Reagan’s, the U.S. has concluded few substantial diplomatic agreements during the Reagan years. On the other hand, we have, by many accounts, subverted quite a few promising peace plans. Reaganite conservatives, according to Chomsky, “hoped to leave a permanent stamp on American politics. They intended to prove that violence pays.” This is the “culture of terrorism” of the book’s title. It is not someone else’s culture; it is our own. Lovers in a Monochromatic World BY ROSALIND ALEXANDER THE ASSIGNATION: Stories by Joyce Carol Oates New York: Ecco Press, 1988 192 pages, $16.95 a meeting, especially a lover’s secret The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd Edition N O DOUBT, Joyce Carol Oates is an excellent manipulator of the English language. She is an exquisitely adept voyeuristic writer, one who translates the potpourri of lives she has observed casually or closely with startling, succinct immediacy. Her newest collection, The Assignation, is but another justifiably touted edition of the 19-book-testament to her gifts. The 44 narratives in The Assignation are short, but evocatively complete and, for the most part, satisfying. All but one have either appeared in some form in one of an impressively eclectic list of literary or commercial magazines still committed to fiction, such as Exile Playgirl, Antaeus, or Threepenny Rosalind Alexander is a freelance writer living in Austin. Review, or they have won equally impressive literary prizes. “Bad Habits” the one story that has not been previously seen or lauded is a glance at the trustless marriage of a community college teacher and her poet husband. The narrative fits neatly into the collection’s fascination with lovers of every ilk: In bed that night in their drafty bedroom they hug in the old way, at least at first, the first several minutes, laughing, breathless, like children tickling and twining their cold feet together. Then he says, You’re spying on me, aren’t you? pinching her buttocks, her breasts. She says, I would never do that. He says, I love you too, but does one proposition exclude the other? Although “Bad Habits” showcases Oates’s deft handling of lovers and spouses, the story is not entirely representative of the collection. “Visitation Rights” is a rather scary look at the eerie influence one divorced parent can have over a child and indirectly over his or her former spouse. “Party” and “Stroke” are both stories of dying people whose friends and family are all save one indifferent or conniving. “Pinch” deals with a woman finding out if the “Pit, or thorn” in her breast is malignant. “Heartland” offers a newer twist on the grown-daughter-visiting-her-agingparents-storyline: The parents have become brash, flamboyant, and unabashedly romantic with the years, rather than staid and reticent. And “Fin de Siecle” is the bizarre tale of two mafiosos who strangle an aging, drug-dealing, perverted physician and are then surprised when they confront the old doctor’s body-building niece. Often nameless, the characters in these short story-narratives are fairly ordinary people with interesting quirks of personality or profession. Oates dissects their words to craft extraordinary stories a fresh twist in the age of minimalist vestiges and so many books that offer so little genuine insight. The characters’ voices are crystal clear, and sharp as a knife or is it a jewel? to the reader’s ear. We are sure that each of these stories is being lived out down the freeway, if not next door, and sometimes it is uncomfortable to be privy to so many thoughts that sound so familiar, so real. In one of her freshest offerings, “Desire,” an oft-married businessman who has been restlessly and inexplicably lonely all his life learns that the “tumor” taken from his colon was supposed to have been his twin. Smiling he weighs the thing in the palm of his hand. . . . Sometimes, staring at it, he can’t control his laughter tears streak down THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19