After a 1975 speech in Wilmington, Del., author Joseph Heller was asked why he had never “written about the Jewish experience.” Now he has, and his third novel, Good as Gold, opens with that question in Wilmington. It is a funny book, Heller’s Catch-22 of big government and academe. Bruce Gold, an obscure 48-year-old professor of English who is still alternately scorned and adored by his Jewish family, lusts after political power. He winds up in line for the job of Secretary of State. The novel’s verisimilitude is buttressed with references to actual news events and real people who worked in the Johnson, Nixon and Ford administrations. “I’m told the chapters on Kissinger,” Heller says with relish, “will probably make it impossible for him to run for public office.”
All the while Gold’s finger itches for the nuclear button, he is striving to heighten his academic stature too, with “a study of contemporary Jewish life in America.” Gold, as it turns out, is living that life—his consciousness raised by a former Texas governor who advises him that every Jew should have a big Christian for a friend. It’s a line Heller picked up over the dinner table from his friend, comedian Mel Brooks. “I’ve pillaged our conversations rapaciously,” he admits.
Aside from lissome legs, a lazy elegance and that beguiling feline ferocity, just what does Lauren Bacall really have to offer? Quite a bit, it seems—a whole fascinating life, detailed in her 384-page book, Lauren Bacall By Myself. This is not another one of those as-told-to jobs; she wrote it herself, in longhand, mostly in spare offices at Knopf, her publisher. There is more to Betty than just Bogie too—the early days in Manhattan were on what Diana Vreeland called “the wrong side of the tracks in two rooms with her mother.” Then came modeling, the big time in Hollywood, a dozen years with Bogart, a fling with Sinatra, a marriage to Jason Robards that flopped and a triumph on Broadway. “I wrote very truthfully,” Bacall says, “and I wrote about everything that was important. Everyone is going to know a hell of a lot more about me than I ever wanted them to know.”
More than just a suspenseful news event about a rich girl turned terrorist, the Patty Hearst case struck Shana Alexander, columnist turned commentator on 60 Minutes, as “some kind of mystical experience, the story of my lifetime.” In Anyone’s Daughter, Alexander tells why (“because in some ways she was the girl I had been”) and explores the myriad themes she found—feminism, Vietnam, the media, Watergate and California. “Now that we have declared that God is dead,” Shana says, “all that’s left are psychiatry and the law. They collided head-on in this case, and everybody was injured in the wreck, not just Patty.” The title of the book comes from one of Hearst’s taped messages: “We could be anyone’s daughter, son, husband.” It is precisely such a perception of kinship that provokes Alexander’s personal examination “of myself and my own daughter who ran off—and in my own mind was in a sense ‘kidnapped.’ ”
In the early ’60s, when a dandy out of Yale graduate school named Tom Wolfe was a reporter on the Washington Post, brave men began cannonballing themselves skyward from a swampy promontory called Cape Canaveral. Wolfe became “fascinated with the psychology of the astronaut.” How did they ever crank themselves up for that heart-stopping moment of lift-off? Wolfe, who in the years since ignited a blaze of exclamation marks and italics that lit up—and singed—everything from car racing to Ken Kesey, now shifts his light show up into space. What it took to get there and back, he discovers, was nothing less than The Right Stuff, the title of his new book.
It’s been a long shore leave—14 books have come from Nicholas Monsarrat since his 1951 best-seller, The Cruel Sea. Now living and working on the isle of Gozo off the coast of Malta with his third wife, Ann (27 years his junior), Monsarrat, at 68, returns to the deep with Running Proud, the first volume of an epic, The Master Mariner. The premise is a stretcher: A seaman, Matthew Lawe, ships out with Drake against the Spanish Armada—and commits an act of shameful cowardice. As atonement, author Monsarrat condemns Matthew to sail on and on, through four centuries of derring-do with Henry Hudson, Morgan the Pirate, Samuel Pepys and Nelson at Trafalgar. Says Monsarrat, who is already well into volume two, bringing the Flying Englishman up to the present day: “If people were kind enough to accept the Ring of Wagner, the Magic Flute of Mozart, the Tempest of Shakespeare, Aladdin and his wonderful lamp, even Superman, then they will take a sailor who wandered the seas forever.”