44 I CHRONICLESnout, there were those who told thentruth about the terror-famine in thenUkraine: Malcolm Muggeridge, EugenenLyons, William Henry Chamberlain,nGareth Jones. But their evidencenwas widely rejected because itnwas too unsettling. There were alsonthose inevitable countervailing observersnwho said things people were muchnmore willing to accept.nIt may be that the vast majority ofnhuman beings everywhere cannot believensuch horrors exist until theynthemselves actually experience them.nIf one day—God forbid—we shouldnencounter such disasters in this land ofnplenty, we cannot say we were notnwarned repeatedly and eloquently.nRobert Conquest is one of those whonhas strived most energetically to speaknto those with ears to hear.nMother’s Darlingnby Katherine DaltonnEnchantment by Daphne Merkin,nNew York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich;n$16.95.nHannah Lehmann is one of six childrennin a wealthy. New York, OrthodoxnJewish family headed by a somewhatncaustic, undemonstrative mothernand a father whose concern is business.nHannah is obsessed with hernmother, who never loved her enough,nbut whom Hannah cannot leave, forgive,nor stop thinking about. Years,nlovers, and psychiatrists do not helpnher. “My mother is the source of mynunease in the world,” Hannah says,n”and thus the only person who cannmake me feel at home in the world.”nThough it is all her mother’s fault,nHannah feels she is nothing withoutnher.n”Somewhere in this story,” writesnDaphne Merkin at the beginning ofnher novel Enchantment, “is a tragedy,nbut it is very hard to see.” Too hard; forna novelist who has put her character’snmind—or perhaps her own—under anmicroscope, the tragedy is buried sondeep that the rest of us have to wondernif it’s really there at all.nMerkin has taken her title fromnPlato—“Everything that deceives maynbe said to enchant”—but it is Aristotlenshe should be rereading. “A tragedy isnimpossible without action,” he wrote,nand the essential plot has three essentialnelements to it: a reversal of circumstances,na change from ignorance tonknowledge, and suffering.nEnchantment has only suffering—anlong, articulate whine. If it’s clear thatnlife is genuinely painful for Hannah,nit doesn’t keep her from being endlesslynirritating. I say articulate becausenMerkin writes well and with apparentncare. There are some metaphors andnthoughts that are quite lovely: “Thenonly part of Sunday that I like is thenmorning; past twelve o’clock I begin tonhate the day, the way in which it sags,”nor, “I don’t suppose I’ll ever use any ofnthese items, but their arrival in thenmail, packed in auspicious brown cartons,nmade me feel momentarily lessnlonely, at the end of someone else’snthoughts.”nBut they cannot save the book. Merkinnmay have some gifts for observation,nbut she has none for plot. It maynbe she has abandoned plot altogether;nthis book is remarkable for its utter lacknof it. Absolutely nothing happens; instead,nMerkin has put all her eggs intonone basket—character—and it’s Hannah’sncharacter that must hold thenreader to the book. There’s nothingnelse, no beginning or end, no characterndevelopment or progression innthinking, nor regression, even.nMerkin has very believably drawnnHannah, in monumental detail, rightndown to her theories about her bodilynfunctions—revelations I could havendone without. (You have to be annexceedingly good writer to overcomenthe gratuitous coarseness of writingnabout going to the bathroom.) To havencreated Hannah is something. For annactor, whose job is characterization, itnwould be everything. For a novelist,nit’s not nearly enough. The author hasnto make you want to finish the book,nnot just believe it. I couldn’t get awaynfrom the feeling that Enchantmentncould as easily have been half as longnor twice as long. When something hasnno beginning or end, what is it thatnputs boundaries around the middle?nWhim? Fatigue? An editor who says,nany longer and we’ll have to raise thenprice to $18.95? I know no more,nreally, about Hannah by chapter 18nthan I did after chapter 2; aside fromnsome nice lines, I’d gained no moreninsight into Hannah or the world ornnnanything else, and I hadn’t been particularlynentertained; surely we makenthe effort to read a book for one ofnthose reasons?nA novel in which nothing happensnmust have a main character capable ofntaking center stage and holding it—innthis case, 288 pages worth. But Merkinnhas painfully painted herself into ancorner by creating a character who isncomplete but unsympathetic. Thenfocus of a book has to have somenstrong allure, even if it’s mostly demonic;nHannah I just want to shakensome sense into. Past and present mingleninto one great extended monologuenalways in the present tense. I grewndesperate for any kind of action at all,nanything, just not another hundrednpages of lengthy ruminations on thenHannah Lehmann selfnSome of my friends liked the booknbetter than I did. “She’s peeled herselfnlike an onion,” said one who liked thenbook precisely for the completenessnand shamelessness of Hannah’s selfexposure.nFor me it felt like a vicarious,ndecade-long therapy session, andnI’ve never been much of a fan ofnpsychoanalysis. Merkin chronicles thendetails of Hannah’s life indiscriminately,nmoving in ever smaller concentricncircles, like some poor parody of Dante’snhierarchy in Hell, from the pettyndetails to the pettiest. Details are vitalnto any book, of course. But not everynsingle detail that can be gleaned fromnscrutinizing your apartment and fromnthinking back over your friends’ andnfamily’s lives and your own 20-oddnyears of experience. Merkin is guilty ofnthe novelist’s equivalent of relativism:nanything — a squeezed-out tube ofntoothpaste, just anything—is as goodnas anything else, and everything isnchronicled and included.nSo in Enchantment you have everynbit you’d ever want to know about annupper-class Jewish girl too weak to benevil, too self-involved and petulant tonbe much good. If there is one thingnthat made me pause when I was finishingnEnchantment, it’s what this exhaustivenportrait means. All novels arento some extent autobiographical, innthat writers must put something ofntheir own lives, experiences, or observationsninto them, and first novelsn(which Enchantment is) are notoriouslynso. But any book with this precise anpicture of one needlessly broken per-n