are effectively nonnovels because of thenutter poverty of their contents and becausenof the shabbiness of their style.nWho is responsible for this melancholynstate of aflfeirs? The writers themselvesnare, of course. But the publishers toonmust assume a large share of the blame.nThe health of the American publishingnindustry is not good, and the prognosis,nbarring some radical change for the better,nis not promising. The problem of thenpublishers is one of taste. They tend tonlack it. Although, as James Laughlin hasnpointed out, one can still find tasteful,ndiscriminating people in positions ofnpower within the major publishingnhouses (he singles out Robert Girouxnfor special praise), most of those whoncall die shots show no special regard fornquality fiction; quite the contrary. It isnnot that they are people without principles.nThey have principles, but onesnwherein aesthetic considerations arenminimized. Such publishers have idolatrouslyngiven themselves over to thengreat god Marketability. An illustrativencase in point: an editor at one of the morenformidable New York houses recendynreturned a manuscript for a novel to anwriter acknowledging that the work wasnsubstantive and well written. However,nthe editor chided him—in tones that impliednthe commission of an unpardonablensin—for a lack of sensitivity to “marketnconsiderations.”nRobie McCauley, onetime editor ofnThe Kenyon Review and now a seniorneditor at Houghton MifQin, contendsnthat the future for good fiction in thisncountry looks very gloomy. The majornpublishers simply do not want to takenthe inevitable risks associated with fictionnthat refiises to appeal to a culture’snlowest common denominator, and hennotes that, whereas at the turn of thencentury American publishing housesnwere putting out some 200 first novelsnper year, the number is now half that. Henadmits that in his own company, HoughtonnMifflin, it is, in more cases than not,nthe marketing department that has thenfinal say on whether or not a fiction manuscriptnwill be published The guidingnquestion has nothing to do with quality—njust salability. The days of editors of thenstature of Maxwell Perkins appear to bengone—one hopes, not forever. McCauleynbelieves that if quality fiction is going tonsurvive in this country it will not be becausenof the major publishers, but innspite of them. He looks to the “littlenpresses” to save the day.nIn light of these realities, novels likenSusan Cheever’s The Cage and AnnenRice’s Cry to Heaven aren’t surprising.nThey are not very good, although of thentwo. The Cage is at least somewhat morenserious. One has the impression thatnCheever has some idea of what is involvednin writing for keeps. Her intentionsnare good, but it takes more thannthat to make literature. Her style has anpeculiar kind of nervous self-consciousnessnthat I associate with “creative writing”nas defined by academe: the Writers’nWorkshop Syndrome. There is a paradoxnto be confironted here. Her style wouldnseem to be the product of no smallnamount of studied carefulness, but thenbeneficial effects of that carefulness arenquestionable, at best. There is a stagednquality to her writing, as if she were tryingnto create Beauty ex nihilo. Specifi-n’* *l ri ti I I If 11 f’ii* 1^ wi • f l-iriiiti If ifl 111! iiiiii nil In” “.• “•• •• – p !»n.1 IIMl>ll It IS .1 pill’l’ .Mill NIK .iiin’lll. ‘ncally, she uses too many adjectives, andnher word choice misses le mot justenwith irritating frequency. Her im^esnare often awkward, on occasion amusinglynso, and tend to call undue attentionnto themselves. In the end, one concludesnthat Cheever lacks that intimate,ninsider’s knowledge of language thatnone expects of the professional writer.nIf the subject matter of The Cage hadnsome depth we might be prepared tonexcuse Cheever her stylistic infelicities,nbut the novel’s story line is hackneyed.nWe confront a reasonably well-educated,nappropriately sophisticated middleagedncouple who discover, after manynyears of marriage, that they are not ful­nnnfilled. In this case the dogged exertionsnof the workaholic husband seem to bengetting him no closer to his vaporousnand elusive notion of success. The pamperednfancy of the wife leads her to thenconviction that she is a near martyr ofnneglect and that her husband is ripe tonrush off with a younger woman at thenslightest crook of a seductive finger. Thencouple does not convince, but the wife’snmelodramatic reaction to her largelynimagined problem is not without verve.nShe locks up hubby in an elephant cagenon the grounds of their summer home,nand later, when he escapes and is trottingnoff to a freedom that his wife’s bizarrenbehavior forced him to choose,nshe, mistaking him for a deer who hasnbeen messing up her garden, fires a riflenat him and, presumably, shoots him dead.nEnd of book. The Cage, I realize, is attemptingnto deal with the profound andnproblematic intricacies that characterizenhuman relationships, and in such a waynso as to move us to think seriously aboutnsuch matters. But the fiindamental sillinessnof the protagonists prevents usnfrom doing so. Such characters qualifynfor neither tragedy nor comedy, andneven their pathos is boring and inconsequential.n~ .%ۥǥ IV*** nines lUndi RvrhncnAnne Rice’s Cry to Heaven is a historicalnnovel written by someone whosenknowledge of history—as is evident innthe novel—^is superficial and fi-agmented.nThe book is replete with topical specialneffects and gaudy displays of local color,nbut it is almost completely devoid of theninner sense of the era with which it isnconcerned. Rice writes—unconvincingly—^aboutnthe world of the castratednmale sopranos of 18th-century Italy.nThe novel’s plot structure is so mechanicalnthat events can be unerringly predicted.nThe characters are cut flx)m cardboard;nnot a single one of them in thisn531-page tome bears any similarity tongenuine human persons living or dead.n^SiiS9nJillyl983n