BUCHANAN DYING

A PLAY

John Updike has made a stalwart attempt to rescue James Buchanan from historical oblivion — and failed. His play about the last hours of the fifteenth President of the United States offers, alas, a hero who is not so much dying as dramatically dormant. Propped up on bolsters, lying in a sleigh bed at his home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, fat and old and white, surrounded by the threatening figures and events from a troubled past, quarreling with God, debating with himself, Updike's Buchanan is a sort of recalcitrant Job engulfed by his tormentors. The Civil War three years ended, Buchanan, the predecessor of Lincoln, is conscience-stricken over the duplicity of the North, the bulling of the South ("Once the North could call itself righteous, then human greed could have its space, and the rest was but a long and bloody grinding down"). Flitting in and out of his guilty reveries are the ghosts of Jackson, Lincoln, and the Czarina of Russia, of his mother and his father, of the woman he jilted and the niece he adored. Always a fluent writer, Updike has, naturally, many moments of decorous felicity, but the play seems, nevertheless, to have largely been composed between bouts with the scholars (the political pedantry, the affectedly venerable language) and fretful musings among the works of La Rochefoucauld and Pascal. Buchanan's wan note of misanthropy is emphasized through his highly unusual penchant for French mots (imagine that happening in the Washington of today!), one of which — "Il est plus aise de connaitre l'homme en general, que de connaitre un homme en particulier" — might serve as a fitting clue to the fundamental absence of emotional interest, since the most revealing, intimate touch about Buchanan's character in Updike's dry, cold, statuesque play comes in an early stage direction: "This is the so-called Back Bedroom, preferred by the dying man perhaps because, being over the kitchen, it was warm.

Pub Date: April 1, 1974

ISBN: 0811702383

Page Count: 310

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1974

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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