VALHALLA by Newton Thornburg


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Erratic novelist Thornburg (the appealing Cutter and Bone, the drab Black Angus) has produced his weakest book yet--a crude, rightwing end-of-America melodrama that's closer to a racist Charles Bronson revenge-movie than to serious apocalyptic fiction. It's the very near future, and society has gone to hell thanks to our pathetic government: ""This company of twits, this coterie of Olympian pissants. . . smiled and scraped and printed money. . . and all that time no one seemed to have even the dimmest notion of what a price everyone would ultimately have to pay for this profligacy."" So the cities are burning, black gangs (called ""Mau Maus"") are marauding, and the white folks have fled to the Ozarks. Among them is Thornburg's hero: wanderer Stone, who comes upon a lakeside refugee compound peopled by an array of stereotypes. There's the pusillanimous Jewish intellectual, the Italian gangster-type, women of very easy virtue (one named Eve, of course), a Bible-thumping black, etc. And when the encroaching Mau Maus seem about to massacre this refugee camp, the weak, appeasing whites hatch a scheme of craven cowardice: using one of their own as bait (he's soon dead), they divert the Mau Maus' attention to the large house across the lake, where a St. Louis junkman and his two daughters have taken refuge. The dumb Mau Maus do indeed rise to the bait and are soon doing their usual thing--robbing, looting, pillaging, raping, scrawling graffiti on Currier & Ives wallpaper--at the house across the lake. But finally Stone can stand himself no longer and throws off his shabby pacifism: he marches off to kill the Mau Maus--easy targets now that they're drunk and sated with sex. A politically simplistic, Neanderthal scenario delivered in barely literate prose--a sad, exploitative comedown for a once-promising novelist.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Little, Brown