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Books: Also Current: May 18, 1962

2 minute read

RIVERSIDE DRIVE, by Louis Simpson (303 pp.; Atheneum; $5). A prizewinning poet (Good News of Death and Other Poems) here turns his talent to novel writing for the first time, with notable results. His hero, Duncan Bell (like Simpson, the son of a well-to-do Jamaica plantation owner), migrates to New York, where his progress is interrupted by the war, a bout in an insane asylum, a pubescent female panther, and several rounds on a psychoanalyst’s couch that are complicated by Bell’s self-destructive delusions of creative ability. Eventually Bell faces his own limitations and moves to California to help take care of handicapped children. Poet-Novelist Simpson’s carefully framed moral: self-discovery is in itself a triumph over self-defeat.

THE FEVER TREE, by Richard Mason (316 pp.; World; $4.95). After idolizing the whore with a heart of gold (in The World of Suzie Wong), British-born Novelist Richard Mason whitewashes the hero with feet of clay. The cad in question is British Army Major Ronald Birkett, 48, a world-famous explorer (of boudoirs as well as continents) who stomps about saying such trenchant things as “Well, no point in beating about the bush, my dear. Get yourself into bed.” But beneath this Great Lover exterior, he is a stingy fellow and a Communist underground agent involved in a complex plot to subvert Nepal. Readers will be challenged by a harrowing choice: Is Birkett better off Red than dead?

THE SIEGE, by Peter Vansittart (410 pp.; Walker; $5.95.) The Peasants’ Rebellion (1525) in Germany began with the wildest pendulum swing of the Protestant Reformation, the radical Anabaptist movement, whose leaders fanatically renounced everything from private property to monogamous marriage. It ended, after a wave of incredibly cruel repression, in the agonizing Siege of Munster (1534-36). As narrator-hero, Author Vansittart uses a young nobleman named Zimri, who sets out to help put down the rebellion and later, at Munster, watches the Anabaptist leaders in their final action, e.g., Jan of Leyden, a cynical saint who takes twelve wives, winds up bound to an iron chair whose seat is a roaring stove. The details are vivid, but like most novels of its kind, Vansittart’s ambitious book is neither real history nor first-rate fiction.

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