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Books: Richer than Treacle

2 minute read

TEXTURES OF LIFE (249 pp.)—Hortense CaUsher—Little, Brown ($4.75).

It sounds perfectly insufferable. David and Liz are newlyweds and weanling artists. In full flight from the soft clutch of uptown parental comfort, the two make their nest in an industrial loft in lower Manhattan. After a series of predictable experiences—first night, first fight, first child—they are drawn back to the kind of cozy middle-class coop they flew in the first place.

In serving all this up, however, Hortense Calisher, a memorable short-story writer with one forgettable novel (False Entry) to her credit, has concocted something far richer and immeasurably rarer than the usual dreadful treacle of youthful domestic odyssey. Textures of Life, in fact, is a small masterpiece in a strange minor key, a little treasury of the obvious made miraculous by talent.

Many a writer might have been tempted to skulk past the cliches of early marriage. Hortense Calisher attacks head on, overruns each situation with the rush of her own peculiar eloquence. A reader can cheerfully follow David and Liz through the awe of contemplating the baby’s hand, the terror of watching its first illness, the slowly emerging awareness of what shape their marriage may finally assume. And in the interplay between the generations lies a lingering dynastic question: How much do we inherit from the past; how much can we disown?

In the small, intricate world of extreme feminine sensibility, a girl’s refusal to have a dressy wedding can open on an abyss of revolt; the look of a new apartment can call for the fanciest flight of prose. Occasionally Miss Calisher seems to hover protectively over her characters. But that is rare. Most of the time she shows them off as a collector displays finely wrought curios, turning them skillfully this way and that to catch all sorts of light. How different each is from the rest—and yet how like!

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