September 28, 1987 12:00 PM

by Frederic Morton

The author of A Nervous Splendor and The Rothschilds has produced a highly original and always entertaining meditation, a sort of memoir and view of life today that is both thoughtful and frenzied. Every observation is haunted by a memory from Morton’s Viennese childhood. There, on the Jewish Sabbath, Morton went to his father’s factory and helped lock up the place. For a few hours the factory was silent, and the child, allowed to do as he pleased at a coffeehouse, knew a bliss that has been lost forever. The author has chosen to mull over his whole history, and that of mankind, while on a bus ride across Manhattan. One thing leads most productively to another. His T-shirt has on it a copy of a prehistoric drawing of a deer, the first graffito. He is on his way to pick up his young daughter, who has slept over at a friend’s house. En route, the bus is halted by a Polish or Puerto Rican parade (he never knows which), which sets him off on a discussion of the Roman Empire. New York’s crazies, poor and rich, are observed in Central Park. Looking at a huge construction project that will yield yet another cold apartment building leads into an appreciation of a handsome Art Deco structure across the street, boarded up and falling into ruin. Morton is struck by the American insistence on the future. Everything is going to improve, to be better; our politicians tell us so. He is late picking up his daughter, and they go on to a party. He observes, profoundly: “No, Daughter doesn’t discuss heavy stuff with me…things that matter must be worked out alone.” In this wonderful book, Morton has done a brilliant job of working out much of modern man’s dilemma. The writer’s rough, eventful trip across town is also a cry of pain that the factory is never shut down anymore, not even on the Sabbath. The sense of loss is profound. (Grove, $15.95)

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