Soap Opera & Matters of PlumbingnGwyneth Cravens: Love and Work;nAlfred A. Knopf; New York.nAllen Hannay: Love and OthernNatural Disasters; Atlantic-Little,nBtown; Boston.nby Keith Bowernv^harles Lamb once said that therenwere certain places and certain timesnfor reading particular books. Althoughnone might take Izaak Walton fishing,nthe only reading one is likely to accomplishnwould be the fine print onnthe fishing license. And however manynmiles one might lug Montaigne’s essays,nit’s doubtful one would find the grassynslope in the Guyenne that is supposed tonbe perfect for him. The books by Cravensnand Hannay have a natural setting, thenperfect aerie: atop the toilet tank.nLadies first: Love and Work is a novelnof maimers set among the unmannerly.nMs. Cravens seems to have put morenwork into this socially meaningful, lightncomedy than either her characters or hernsubject deserve. An unemployed womannfinds work assisting a young, haggard,nhas-been Yalie who edits a dull executivennewsletter for an impersonal corporation.nLove ensues, and it strugglesnbeneath the burden of deadlines.nAnother woman and the Yalie finallynleave to “work” on their relationship.nThe previously unemployed woman isnthus out of work—and out of the picture.nEven a TV sitcom is better.nYet Qavens is adept, as women sometimesnare, at exploiting the manners ofnher day, and the novel escapes that dreadnmodern disease of becoming a fiction fornthe sake of introducing conversations.nThere are few serious flaws in her narrative,nalthough she changes the pacingnwith ridiculous leaps in chronology andntries to sew up loose threads long afternMr. Bower is an editor o/HillsdalenReview.nthe conclusion of the book becomes apparent.nNeither does she err by being anfemale chauvinist: the female charactersnare just as cardboard as the male ones.nMs. Cravens’s title subject gave her anknife with which she might have excisednthe warts of the 1970’s. Instead, she usesnit only to cut the ends of her needlepoint,nand she needles not enough for a satirist.nThe reader is spared flagrant sexualnpolitics and harridans’ harangues; GwynethnCravens is on the side of propriety.nShe seems to want to smite the New Yorknyokels with an elegant toss of the pen, thenway a teenage girl tosses her head with anstrained laugh when the crowd has gottenna little too obstreperous. But shenhasn’t risen above peer pressure yet: afternall, these types publish books, and girlsnfrom the hinterlands had better benfamous first before they try to be PhyllisnMcGinley, to say nothing of GeorgenEliot. One recalls Anthony Trollope, andnthe way he chided his characters withoutnbecoming moralistic. But these cosmopolitanncretins need moralization, andn’I haven’t had as much fiin reading in a long time.”nthere doesn’t appear to be anyone butnSaul Bellow and Walker Percy to takenthat on yet.n>>ertainly not Allen Hannay. Lovenand Other Natural Disasters is of thenTexas school—not Larry McMurty andnEdward Abbey and Larry King—a liter-nnnary set, like members of the Lone Starnjazz circle that produces a wailing, gutbucketnsound that goes on for too manynchoruses, often dribbling off into contrivedncliches with a plaintive sweetnessnakin to sappiness. This is “Lockjaw”nDavis transposed iato print. Striving fornoriginality, Haimay inserts all the propern”wild” ingredients found in the modernnnovel of ftivolity. The hero is a senior innhigh school who falls head over cowboynboots for his latest date’s mother. Hownoriginal. Thirty-five and divorced, thenwoman is miming to seed fast and needsnsomething new: with the young man,nshe takes up jogging and good, oldfashioned,nscandalous sex. They runnthrough the rice fields at night and makenlove on the dike behind the drive-in. Thenfirst ten minutes of Midnight Cowboyncovered this aspect of American culturenwell enough for posterity.nOf the two books, Hannay’s takes loventhe more seriously. Despite all thenlocker-room bawdiness, he at least triesnto make some sense out of the chaos ofnthe modern notion of sexual love. Hannaynattempts to tell a story that leadsnsomewhere, even if it only arrives at thenimprobable uniting of two lustful animalsnin a doomed effott to raise their illegitimatenchild someplace in Californianwhere the neighbors don’t know.nCravens leaves us stranded in a spiritlessnplace—Central Park—with two hopelessnsolipsists craving the ultimatenorgasm: death.n-one Peter CornernChicago TribunenBoth books could serve as an emblemnfor the America the publishing industrynis bequeathing to our kids: a sterile, dull,ninhuman patch of prairie, left to its ownnrot by people who only had time to stringnup a few neon signs, make a few bucks,nand get in each others’genes for thennight. Dni29nMarch 1983n