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Feenie Ziner's son Ben was one of those Vietnam war casualties who was never in uniform: spooked by the military buildup, repelled by the consumer culture, he dropped out of school and took off for the Northwest, talking of cosmic energy and inner space, drifting in and out of lack-limbed communes, ultimately settling on his own wilderness island. Anxious for his return or at least some answers, Ziner flew in after he'd been living alone for nearly two years, and her skillfully developed account of what transpired between them--a progressive disarmament--slips over the boundaries of personal experience. She masters the primitive flusher and inures herself to thoughts of wolves (""I've read Farley Mowat""); he points out handmade appliances and shares new wisdoms (""Plastic is to us what horses were to the Spanish""). They lie to each other, spar philosophically, and resume a fragile peace. Even the eccentric neighbors--classic misfits--find him difficult. ""Why does he make himself so damned. . . inaccessible?"" ""Why does he live that way? As if he were expiating for some kind of a sin?"" She draws on the tranquillity of the place, reads the I Ching with the beatific vegetarian round the bend (""The companion bites a way through the wrappings""), and waits. And eventually the staunch independence unmasks, the precarious self-esteem surfaces, a pained confession of inadequacy is spoken. One must suppress dark thoughts about the shaping of this material (could it have happened so smoothly? was she taking notes?) for the perfect curve of events seems almost too good to be true. But Ziner deftly renders the nature of their exchange and the nuances of her private adventure, and the illumination of his fringe benefits and her mainstream hollows will reach that audience attuned to generational discord and cultural reflections.

Pub Date: Jan. 23rd, 1977
Publisher: Norton