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A notable collection of short fiction by a man better known for his radical politics than his writing. Before Bessie became a Warner Brothers screenwriter and subsequently one of the Hollywood Ten who refused to cooperate with HUAC investigators, he wrote (between 1929 and 1941) the 17 stories reprinted here as Solo Flight. Most originally appeared in magazines such as Scribners, Esquire, and the New Masses; and, ironically, none of them is narrowly political. Only three of the stories are grounded in the Spanish Civil War--where Bessie served with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and about which he wrote Men in Battle (1939)--and even these concern not the issues of the conflict but the human suffering of an old woman in the war zone or a Jewish family in the Bronx that loses a son. His typical protagonists--an artist living in the country, a divorced stunt flyer, a Lower East Side doctor--are cut off physically, emotionally, or spiritually from themselves and others. And if a few youthful sketches are oversimplified (a ""boy hunter"" hangs himself in remorse after shooting a beautiful bird), others are moving explorations of personality in crisis: tales of infidelity, sterility, stillbirth, and the death of a dirt-poor woman (""the old lady, the mother, the grandmother, the aunt--she lay dying in her bed to furnish a pretense for a reunion when for once they overate""). Also included, from the period of Bessie's 1950s woes: seven interconnected, curiously lighthearted short stories (six of them previously unpublished) about the author's youthful abortive career as a herpetologist. (""My obsessions swung between the study of biology, zoology and physiology and a determination to get that girl with the red patent-leather hat into bed with me."") No long-lost masterpiece, then--but solid, readable fiction that should help to re-establish Bessie's purely literary credentials.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1982
Publisher: Chandler & Sharp