Harry Hu nit Ransom y r ‘ ,.?..frge g ;::% Dolph Briscoe My Life in. Texas Ranching and Politics eY DOLPH BRISCOE AS TOLD TO DON CARLETON DISTRIBUTED FOR THE DOLPH BRISCOE CENTER FOR AMERICAN HISTORY, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN 70 bOre photos 29.95 cloth The Hogg Family and Houston Ph ilan th ropy and the civic Ideal BY KATE SAYER KIRKLAND Focus ON AMERICAN \\ ISSERIFS. DP,TRIBMI D FOR Ink DOT PIT BR TSCOT Cr \\ TI R FOR AMERICAN HISTORY 14 bezlze photac : ,;’65 nO doll? Harry Huntt Ransom Intellect in Motion BY ALAN GRIBBEN 15 beize photos $60.00 cloth Will Atwood prove that all these rambling tangents and musing digressions support one grand, overarching thesis? Eric Berne’s 1964 bestseller, Games People Play, one of which is called “Debtor:’ the most interesting variation of which is called “Try and Collect” Atwood writes, “The obtaining of goods on credit, the avoidance of payment, the thrill of the chase, the anger at the creditor, and the acting out of victimhood all come with their own jolt-of-brain-chemical rewards, and each also performs the function of providing a key element in a story-of-mylife game of ‘Debtor’ plot line” Atwood then examines the role of debt in the plots of Christopher Marlowe’s Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Washington Irving’s “The Devil and Tom Walker” \(one William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. This is all cohesive literary criticism until Atwood, touching on women and debt in literature, mentions George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss. Suddenly the chapter is interrupted. Atwood writes: “But here I must make a detour. For Maggie Tulliver is a miller’s daughter, not a stationer’s daughter or a plumber’s daughter, and that makes a difference. So I’ll say a few words about mills, because being a miller’s daughter carries a heavy weight of mythic signifi cance. As does being a miller. As, indeed, does being a mill. “Mills, millers, millers’ daughters. I’ll tackle them in that order. “Water-wheel mills are very old …” Eleven pages later, Atwood wraps up her mill lecture and begins her two-page summary of the preceding 40-page chapter, which, with some gentle shaping and premeditated editorial choices, would already be nestled neatly between the reader’s ears, fully grasped, rather than sprawled out in the short-term memory, confused. Payback’s fourth chapter, “The Shadow Side is more engaging, if only because it is grimmer. The Shadow Side deals with the consequences of unpaid debtincluding tax rebellions, revolutions, the mass destruction of debt records, the slaughter of creditors and personal revengeas they’ve played out in different societies through history. Atwood finds a groove in her discussion of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, showing where his tory meets literature in a stirring and trenchant treatise on the effects of debt on the human soul. It’s a riff that works, and Atwood parlays it into the story of Nelson Mandela, asking whether forgiveness might set both creditors and debtors free. Chapter Five is the make-or-break chapter. So far, Atwood has shown off her capacities as a historian and literary critic, if not necessarily a focused, formal essayist. Will Atwood prove that all those rambling tangents and musing digressions were included to support one grand, overarching thesis? No. The “Payback” chapter opens with a five-page summary of the foregoing chapters, then slips into an eloquent rumination on the idea of the due date, the deadline by which a debt must be paid. One can almost hear the bells of a thousand grandfather clocks tolling midnight as Atwood meditates on time. Then she begins to tell a story. It’s cute at first, a snarkily modern update of A JANUARY 9, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15
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