tion, he becomes authentic. By the endrnof his stay, Paul Danvers has learnedrnwhat it means to become “de man of thernfamily” and to “do the right thing”rn(rather than the expedient thing).rnIn Baldwin’s fiction, becoming humanrnmeans learning how to love—becomingrna man means being willing tornkill, when it means defending or protectingrnoneself, or what one loves. This samernsort of trial or test is the text of The Hardrnto Catch Mercy as well, but in both booksrnit is not so much the act of killmg thatrnmakes the difference as the protagonists’rnwillingness to face his fear. The Fennelrnpapers and tenure, per se, become superfluousrnonce Paul learns that for the firstrntime in his life he has something of valuernto impart to his students: “And he didn’trnneed tenure or an article to do it. Herncould tell them—he could address themrnin an open and honest manner. Herncould tell them—he could tell them thatrndespite what they would learn about thernworld in his class—and despite thernarmies of despair arranged againstrnthem—they must take responsibility forrnthemselves and for the people aroundrnthem. And above all else thev must notrnbe afraid.”rnMr. Baldwin is a versatile writer, if hisrnfirst two novels are any indication. ThernHard to Catch Mercy is an old-fashionedrncountry saga that spans years, a sort ofrnCold Sassy Tree, but better; while ThernFennel Family Papers, which takes placernwithin a matter of days, is a compressedrnmorality tale of contemporary life. Inrnboth the narrative technique is excellent.rnLess polished is Mr. Baldwin’s prosernstyle. In The Fennel Family Papers instancesrnof knotty syntax sometimes occasionrnawkward references to “the man,”rnand one winces in reading that an individualrn”enthused” (even if this particularrncharacter is effusive). Also Mr. Baldwinrnsometimes overextends himself in thernintricacies of his ambitious plots. Whenrnpast and present vie for equal time, clarityrn(and the reader’s comprehension) arernsometimes sacrificed. In The Hard tornCatch Mercy, Big Sister’s identity andrnrole and Maum Anna’s history remain arnpuzzlement. In The Fennel Family Papers,rnwhich includes an epigraph fromrnVirginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse indicatingrnmany other signs of indebtednessrnto this novel, we may conclude thatrnP mrnThe Haley Library Book ShoprnThe LegacyrnCommemorates the life ofrnJ. Evetts Haley….$31.50rnRough Times —rnTough FiberrnThe history of the HaleyrnFamily $47.50rnShipping :$5.00rnAdd $1.00 for each additional book.rnCowboys Who Rode ProudlyrnA collection of stories about Texasrncowboys and ranchers $52.50rnOn His Native Heath …rnIn His Natural ElementrnA collection of essays by J. Evetts Haleyrnfrom 1927 to 1989 $42.00rnTax:rnTexas residents add 7.75% sales tax.rnNita Stewart Haley Memorial Libraryrn1805 W.IndianarnMidland, Texas 79705rnPhone(915)682-5785rnFax (915) 685-3512rnE-Mail Addressrnhttp:/ns.lx.net/haley/ mrnMr. Baldwin intends a kind of dreamyrncohesion of past and present, but hisrntechnique is not entirely successful inrnthis regard. The narrative can become irritatinglyrnfuzzy, as in the case of Da Sena’srnrole in Adam’s fall and Jack Fennel’srnpart in his sister’s death. But Mr. Baldwin’srnoccasional missteps and obscuritiesrnare easily offset by his facility with characterization.rnThe zany Fennel householdrnis populated with colorful charactersrnsuch as the desiccated Camillarn(surely an incarnation of Miss Emily Grierson),rnthe ebullient Azalea, and the sociopathicrnLeroy. Baldwin displays anrnimpeccable ear in rendering the Gullahrndialect of coastal South Carolina, and hisrndepiction of blacks who are not simplyrnhired help but part of the family—bloodrnkin, in the Fennel case—is expert.rnFurther pleasure is afforded by therndepth and richness of Baldwin’s themes.rnThe Fennel Family Papers is a comic satirernon college life. Southern aristocracy, andrnthe modern ethos of paranoia. He usesrnthe absurd not to validate absurdity, fear,rnand despair, but to point the way towardrnmeaning, courage, and hope. Baldwinrnexplores the elasticity of language andrnvariability of perception by offering multiplerninterpretations, or versions, of suchrnconcepts as “doctor,” “history,” “truth.”rnThus Da Bena is not merely somernvoodoo crone who menaces Paul Danversrnand the periphery of the plot,rnbut—like Martin Rupple, the familyrnphysician, and Paul Danvers, the doctorrnof philosophy—she too is a veritablern”doctor” (a witch doctor) who works tornbring him to an emotional and moralrnhealing that could be wrought only byrnactive suffering and displacement.rnWhile the entire clan at Port Ulaccarnwork (conspiratorially and malevolently,rnit seems to Paul) to “educate” the youngrnprofessor, it is Da Bena who receivesrnmost of the “blame”—and eventuallyrnthe credit—for his coming of age. Withrnher long tentacle arms, chocolate eyes,rnand piano-key teeth. Da Bena, like thernhouse itself, seems a gift from the sea, asrnshe and The Fennel Family Papers are indeedrna gift to all readers of good fiction.rnLoxley F. Nichols is an adjunctrnprofessor of literature at Loyola Collegernin Baltimore.rn36/CHRONICLESrnrnrn