ECLOGUES by Guy Davenport


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In this new collection, Davenport's dazzling yet terribly tight fiction--which stretches across classical and erudite correspondences--shows some signs of loosening up, allowing in some mood and story while sacrificing none of its cured clarifies of language. The two stories with contemporary settings here--""The Death of Picasso"" (a painter and essayist summering on a Dutch island with a half-innocent teenage boy companion) and the too-long ""On Some Lines of Virgil"" (French teenagers acting out, with randy verve, the friendly and pastoral and erotic rites described by Virgil via Montaigne)--both build up moderate, if never engrossing, heads of narrative steam. The sort of tableau vivant which Davenport does so well is also on display: ""Christ Preaching At The Henley Regatta""--after a Stanley Spencer painting--is best, a canvas-ful of eccentric detail (""Flat light shimmers on the Thames. An airplane drags a streamer through the air, advertising Bovril. A dowager aims her ear trumpet so that a constable can direct her electric wheelchair""); the more bookish ""Lo Splendore Della Luce A Bologna"" presents T. E. Hulme at the International Philosophy Congress in 1911; and in ""Idyll,"" a Theocritan shepherd and goatherd are metamorphosed into wounded Union soldiers being nursed by Walt Whitman (""Old Grizzle"") during the Civil War. But what's best of all in this collection derives from Davenport's background as an imaginative classicist. Versions of Diogenes' Lives of the Philosophers, of Plutarch, and of the New Testament's Book of Acts--all these are insufflated into stories that are confident, funny, agreeably American Southern, revolving around the most basic issues of philosophy in an aw-shucks manner that's very disarming. (Especially good is ""The Trees at Lystra,"" sort of St.-Paul-meets-Eudora-Welty.) Davenport's elegant learnedness is given long leash in these, to wonder and cut up and subvert, and they may stand as his most satisfying work in fiction yet. All in all, a fine--if intensely special--collection.

Pub Date: May 31st, 1981
Publisher: North Point Press (850 Talbot Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706)