contact. As a man, he was a hatsh criticnbut unable to accept the faintest criticismn. He seems to have forgiven any faultnor excess in himself, but could not forgivenor forget anyone who aossed him. Vociferousnagainst favoritism, he was thengreatest favorite in the history of thenUnited States Navy. Disdainful of socialnsets, he seems to have been unaware ofnthe fact that he was the representative ofna powerful American group and thenbeneficiary of its connections. Scornful ofnthe earned rank and privileges of others,nhe energetically protested any slight tonhis own rank or privileges. Hyman Rickovernwas a man who took advantage ofnevery situation, but who, nevertheless,nmanaged to achieve a nuclear-powerednNavy that may, in the oncoming crisis,nsave the United States of America. DnOverblown Fiction & Urban RenewalnJohn Gardner: Mickehson’s Ghosts;nAlfred A. Knopf; New York.nJimmy Breslin: Forsaking All Others;nSimon & Schuster; New York.nby Linda ThornenSeptember 14, 1982 was a televisionnnewscaster’s dilemma: two notablenfigures suddenly and violently dead andnthe question of which story to lead with.nOne Chicago station flashed on thenscreen first Princess Grace’s picture, thennthe ravaged streets of Beirut. Althoughnthe rubble and dead bodies were sadlynfamiliar sights, this time death was notnanonymous; it had a name: BashirnGemayel. Later in the broadcast camenthe news of another sudden and violentndeath on that day: novelist John Gardner,n49, after a motorcycle accident innSusquehanna County, Pennsylvania.nThe next day’s newspapers broughtnretrospectives on all three lives, Gardner’s,nof course, further back and accomplishednwith fewer words. The WashingtonnPost’s feature quoted Gardner fromnan interview conducted last July. Speakingnon himself and his art, he said:nYou know, I think I’m a really greatnartist.. . .It’s the same as motorcyclenracing. You believe in something andnMs. Thomeisastaffwriteratthe Universitynof Chicago.nzznChronicles of Culturenyou push it and you just don’t worrynabout what’s going to happen.nThis statement was apparendy a reply tonhis critics’ lukewarm or negative reviewsnof Mickelsson ‘s Ghosts. The metaphornproved to be a tragic one. Though thentelling of Mickelsson’s Ghosts may bencompared to a motorcycle race in whichnthe twists and turns often seem carelessnand the finish line ill-defined, Gardner,nwhether or not he actually viewed the artistnas motorcyclist, held definite opinionsnon the role of the artist vis-a-vis hisnaudience. Somewhere between OctobernLight (which won the 1977 NationalnBook Critics Circle Award) andnMickelsson’s Ghosts, John Gardnernpublished a book on literary criticism titlednOn Moral Fiction. Beyond (ornbesides) being a motorcyclist, Gardnernbelieved, the true artist is a moralist,nseeking to improve life.nThe true artist’s purpose, and thenpurpose of the tme critic after him, isnto show what is healthy, in othernwords sane, in human seeing, thinking,nand feeling, and to point outnwhat is not. He may point out what isncentral to the healthy fiinction of thenhuman spirit—he may deal withnmorals—in which case his work, if it isnsuccessful, is major; or he may pointnout what is healthy and unhealthy innrelatively trivial sitoations—he mayndeal with morality as it is reflected innmanners—in which case his work isnminor.nnnFor sane, one may substitute “good,”n”life-affirming,” and, of course,n”moral.” The true artist does not simplynhold a mirror up to nature. He magnifiesnthe good, diminishes the bad, amelioratesnmankind.nThis , one may assume, is the task thatnGardner, as moral artist, set out to accomplishnin Mickelsson’s Ghosts. Onenmay also assume that this was to be an”major”—not “minor”—work since thensituations described are hardly trivial.nRather, for one man to experience themnall in one year’s time, they more resemblenthe fantastic, even the absurd. Mickelsson,nan eminent philosophy professor,nis beginning his tenure at the StatenUniversity of New York at Binghamton.nHe has left Brown University, his psychiatrist,nand his ex-wife (with her youngnlover) in Providence, where he wasnknown to walk the streets while dressednin a crimson coat and talk to deadnanimals. Though both his wife and thenInternal Revenue Service are vying for ansum which is several thousand dollarsnmore per year than Mickelsson earns—nhis wife for alimony and the IRS for backntaxes—he nonetheless buys a dilapidatednold house in Susqueharma Countynand painstakingly restores it. The housenis haunted, and Peter Mickelsson isn”haunted” himself. He hears theghosts,nhe sees them, he dreams about them—none is never sure with Mickelsson what isndream and what is hallucination. (Thenghosts, too, have had hard lives: sisternand brother, they’ve had an incestuousnrelationship which culminates in anmurder-suicide.) Mickelsson is alternately—ornsimultaneously—in love withna beautiful, brilliant sociology professornand with a teenage Susqueharma prostitute.nHe nearly kills a man and is nearlynmurdered himself by a soft-spokennfellow philosophy professor who alsonhappens to be a member of a Mormonnassassination team.nThese are not trivial situations. Yetnthese are situations surrounded by sonmuch trivia in the form of unnecessaryndetail that, like poor Mickelsson in then