BALANCING ACTS: Essays by Edward Hoagland


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Further fractious essays from Hoagland (Heart's Desire, 1988, etc.). Hoagland defines essayists as ""teachers, reformers, gadflies, and contrarians."" He himself manifests all these callings here, as he covers such enthusiasms as circuses, naturalists and nature, and the Third World. Pieces on Sierra Club founder John Muir and on Thoreau (who, Hoagland says, accidentally once set fire to 300 acres of the Concord woods he so loved) are insightful and informative, while the author's memories of being a ""downwardly mobile"" writer in the 1950's (one of his friends fainted from hunger) are fun and a bit cranky regarding the present generation of MFA writers. Especially interesting is ""Arabia Felix,"" an account of a journey through Yemen in which Hoagland balances the exotic (meals of sheep vertebrae) with the mundane (young men becoming cab drivers to steal time away with their girlfriends) to help explain a culture that has leaped from feudalism into the late-20th century in 25 years. Also here is the story of the author's dismissal from the Bennington College staff for ""political incorrectness"" (he suggested, without condemning the practice, that the human body is physiologically ill-equipped for anal intercourse). Hoagland's outrage at the huge publishing advances of the 80's, and at writers more provincial and less peripatetic than himself, sounds a bit stale. HIS sensibility is somewhat spiritual and Emersonian--perhaps a virtue in discussing Western secularism and the Rushdie affair, but causing him to stretch the point, perhaps, when categorizing Muir's love of nature as a refuge from and compensation for his brutal childhood. Querulous, wry, and penetrating: a welcome addition to Hoagland's congenial oeuvre.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1992
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster