spare ChangenGail Mhert: Mtttters of Chance; G. P.nPutnam’s Sons; New York.nMarguerite Yourcenar: A Coin innNine Hands; Farrar, Straus & Giroux;nNew York.nLina Wertmiiller: The Head ofAbnse;n^K^lliam Morrow; New York.nExtended Outlooks; Edited by JanenCooper, Gwen Head, Adelaide Morris,nMarda Soutfawick; Collier Books;nNew York.nby Betsy Clarkenriction today at once promises morenthan it delivers and yet delivers a mumbonjumbo that is more than the reader seeks.nEach of these four volumes suffers fromnthat syndrome to some degree. The publishersnseem anxious to attribute allnmanner of wisdom and grand philosophynto these books, which at best merelynpurvey some simple truths about thenhuman conditioa At worst, thou^, theynnearly self-destruct under the strain ofnattempting to propound questionablenprofundities.nGail Albert’s first novel, in which thennarrator is dying of cancer, is a typicalncase in point. The idea is promisingnenough. An impecunious woman from anBrooklyn Jewish ghetto marries wellnand ju^es a tenured university position,na husband, and two adorable childrennfrom a co-op overlooking Central Park.nCancer strikes. Add to this some of life’snironies—^her father’s gambling thatnbrought the femily both hope and despair,nher brother’s death that saved hernfeither’s life—^and the author is on hernway to a successful portrayal of some ofnthe larger universal forces with whichnwe all joust: accident, fete, doom. Unfortunately,nMs. Albert is not content tonMiss Clarke is a free-lance writer innLincoln, ILnS4inChronicles of Culturenpursue themes of even this magnitude.nInstead, she dogs subplots and pointlessndetail which diflftise the power of hernnarrative. Perhaps terrified that, in thenend, her work will not say anything, shenthrows in marital problems, pet rodents,nundisciplined plants, scientific experiments,nin-laws, and all manner of trivianwhich have not been given needed textualnsupport. In addition, she has snubbedna major element of terminal-illness fiction,nsuspense, by giving her heroine 10nyears to live.nAlbert is also prone to occasional rashnstatements that sound like somethingnout of Bill Moyers. “I’ve attained thenAmerican Dream and it’s come near tonelement of risk.nA Coin in Nine Hands, MargueritenYourcenar’s novel of 1934 that is nownrevised and reissued, has many virtues,nnot the least of which is its excellentnstructure. Set in Rome during Mussolini’snreign, the story moves its focus from onencharacter to another with the passage ofna 10-lira silver piece, sometimes randomly,nsometimes in payment, sometimesnto absolve an obligation. Intriguingly,nthough, this convention, rathernthan symbolizing the community ofnstrangers, underlines a contrary observation,nfor the individuals connected bynthe coin are actually more closely relatedn”|Yourfciiar’,s| novel lakes an emphatic, :mii-F;Lscist political stance.”n—7foe New Republicnkilling me,” the protagonist confessesnearly in the novel. And yet the point ofnthe next 200-odd pages is to discovernthe nature of the entity that forced thesenterrible consequences upon her. Accident?nPsychological conflict over abandoningnher religious youth? Act of God?nPerhaps she breathed asbestos as a child.nJudging from the author’s picture andnbiographical information on the novel’sndustcover, it is possible that this book isnmore autobiographical than a healthynwork of fiction dares to be. Accuracy is anmust, of course, but fiction thrives onnimagination. The author is simply toonfascinated by the heroine, her habits andnfeelings, to probe the larger issue ofn\iiere one particular set of circumstancesnfits into the universal scheme of things.nClearly, Ms. Albert worked hard on thennovel, and occasionally, midst the inevitablenrenditions of hair-combing and dogwalking,na few sentences of cogent analysisnburst forth. Matters of Chance is, innfeet, more a disappointing novel than anbad one. Perhaps with her next effort,nthe author will take a few paces backnfrom her creation and, while ponderingnthe role of chance, add to her work annnnin other ways.nAs for Yourcenar’s lyricism, “outstanding”ndescribes it inadequately. The authornis able to probe human emotionnand thought with prose that is powerfiil,nyet simple and brief She observes herncharacters vnth a now-sardonic, nowsympatheticneye. Of an abandoned husband,nshe remarks, “he missed, not thenwife he lost, but the mistress she hadnnever been to him.” And an elderlynpainter traveling in Rome near excavationsnis “unsympathetic to these laborsnwhich devastated a near past for thenprofit of a more distant one”; he “lookedninto space a few yards and a few centuriesnbelow ours.” Unfortunately, injectedninto her marvelous recountings of humannfellings, hopes, and strengths is a politicalntheme that she renders less effectively.nYourcenar claims in the Afterword thatnA Coin in Nine Hands is a novel thatn”confront[s] the hollow reality behindnthe bloated fecade of Fascism,” but thisnstatement seems to be a mostiy baselessnboast. Yes, there is political oppressionndepicted, such as the deportation andndeath of the dissident Carlo Stevo. An assassinationnattempt against Mussolini isn