Second Childhoodsrnby Brad LinaweaverrnDark Verses & Lightrnby Thomas M. DischrnBaltimore: Johns Hopkins UniversityrnPress; 144 pp., $26.00rnNeighboring Livesrnby Thomas M. Disch andrnCharles NaylorrnBaltimore: Johns Hopkins UniversityrnPress; 368 pp., $13.95rnThe M.D.: A Horror Storyrnby Thomas M. DischrnNew York: Alfred A. Knopf;rn384 pp., $22.00rnFrom its beginnings, science fictionrn(bastard offspring of fantasy) has exertedrna vulgar appeal. Some of its proponentsrnhave never shied away from thisrnand, if anything, have celebrated the intelligentrnchild’s outlook, as witness therncareer of Ray Bradbury. The majorityrnof science-fiction writers have grown intornan awkward adolescence in whichrnconquering the universe provides an uneasyrnsubstitute for sexual identity andrnthe avoidance of bankruptcy—a constantrntheme of Barry Mal/.berg. Butrnthere remain a surly few who refuse tornsettle for anything less than full maturity,rnthat sterile condition where senilityrnmust ultimately replace the sense ofrnwonder. Such apostasy has been therntheme of Thomas M. Disch for somerntime: his goal is not to leave but to reformrnthe genre.rnDark Verses & Light is a poetry collectionrnthat carries an endorsement byrnI’homas Fleming, who identifies Diseh’srnwriting as “irreverent with a satire that isrnsavage in its restraint.” NeighboringrnLives is a novel about 19th-eentury writers,rnintellectuals, and artists back when itrnmeant something to live in Chelsea.rnI’he M.D. is a horror novel drawing onrnmuch fantasy, a little science fiction,rnand the kitchen sink (or in this case, thernscrub basin) to reach the reading audiencernthat really matters: the fans ofrnStephen King, whose endorsementrngraces the back cover. Of the three, thernmost successful happens also to be thernmost commercial: The M.D. Interestingly,rnit runs afoul of the Disch theory ofrnmaturity as expounded in his 1991 articlernfor the Atlantic, “Big Ideas andrnDead-End Thrills.” In this piece, Dischrntakes T. S. Eliot’s unremarkable discoveryrnof “a pre-adolesccnt mentality” inrnthe works of Edgar Allan Poe and proceedsrnto criticize the embarrassinglyrnbreathless style of the horror and science-rnfiction stories that owe so much tornyouthful influence. The trouble withrnDisch as a critic is that he sabotages thernfoundations of his subject. Science fiction,rnfantasy, and horror arc about excess.rnThe weakness Eliot identified inrnPoe is actually the genre’s essence: abandonmentrnto the “wonders of nature andrnof mechanics and of the supernatural.”rnIn The M.D., Disch is at his bestrnwhen describing the childhood experiencesrnof his main character and villain,rnone William Michaels. After SisterrnSymphorosa torments little Billy for believingrnin Santa Clans, the unrepentantrnchild is visited by joll) old Santa; the visitorrnis actually the god Mercury, lendingrna certain credence to the bigotedrnnun’s outburst against celebrating paganrngods. He gives Billy a caduceanrnsymbol of the medical profession, therntwin serpents traditionally associatedrnwith the ancient god, cobbled togetherrnfrom a twin-pointed stick and a deadrnsparrow.rnAs one might expect from a longtimernpractitioner of the craft of science fiction,rnDisch takes an engineer’s approachrnto the subject of magic and curses. Thernbrutal equation of cause and effectrnmeans that his magic wand can cure illnessrnas well as inflict it; but the first isrnpaid for by the second. Before the careerrnof the M. D. is over, he has curedrnAIDS but replaced it with an even worsernplague, the airborne ARVIDS. The advantagernto him personally is wealth andrnpower. (The world only knows the goodrnhe docs.) But even as Michaels ascendsrnto his throne, the god Mercury is planningrnahead. Even the M. D. is mortal.rnThe strongest portions of this bookrnare the most elemental and immature,rnin which the simple thrill of discoveryrnin black magic is conveyed. The best dialoguernis between the god and youngrnBilly. These childhood scenes have thernsame evocative power found in Bradbury;rnit is as if a gulf separates Disch therncritic from Disch the writer. It was therncritic who bullied Bradbury in the NewrnYork Times for not being grown uprnenough; by contrast, Russell Kirk hasrnpraised Bradbury’s moral imaginationrn(in Enemies of the Permanent ‘Things) inrnlanguage that equally well describes I’hernM.D.rnThe two sides of Disch twine morernclosely in Dark “Verses & Light. BlessedlyrnDisch is not above rhyming andrnscanning as demonstrated in his lead poem,rn”The Snake in the Manger: ArnChristmas Legend,” a product of thernauthor’s lighter side that is also shown inrn’The Brave Little Toaster. I lere the idea isrnthat the various animals might havernExiles and FugitivesrnThe Letters of Jacques and Raissa Maritain, Allen Tate,rnand Caroline GordonrnEdited by ]ohn M. Dunawayrn”Caroline Gordon, Allen Tate, and Jacques and Raissa Maritain were peoplernon whom little, if anything, was ever lost. They wrote to each other not onlyrnof art and philosophy but of their common faith and of the pain and joys ofrntheir lives. . . . Thus the correspondence, splendidly edited by John Dunaway,rndevelops a small human comedy played out by four of the most giftedrnpeople of our time.”—Walter Sullivanrn”This correspondence of twenty years between two couples who met inrnPrinceton and New York reflects two movements which are still of historicalrninterest today: the Catholic Revival in France of the 1920s and 1930s; andrnthe fugitive-agrarian southern renaissance in America. . . . By collectingrnthese letters, by annotating them, and translating the French letters, JohnrnDunaway has done a great service for those readers interested in the relationshiprnbetween belief and literature.”—Wallace Fowliern$22.50 t. Louisiana State University PressrnBaton Rouge 70893rnJANUARY 1993/35rnrnrn