maiden,” he danced “the cha-cha-chanwith a muscular Capriot.”nThe passengers on Narcisst4s representna circle of fools who embody the collectivenfollies of mankind, a technique Sagannhas clumsily borrowed from a long traditionnbeginning with Sebastian Brant’snDas Natrenschiff (The Ship of Fools,n1494) down to Katherine Anne Porter’snShip of Fools (1962). There is an agingnconductor for wiiom sex is just an agonizingnmemory, now confronted by hisnformer paramour, a sexual predator andnopera star on the sunset side of 50, “anwoman famed not only for her extraordinarynvoice and the art with which shenused it but also for her taste for scandal,nfor men, her scorn for gossip, and hernexcesses, her rages, her extravagance,nher manias, her charm.” We also meet ansugar baron, who is really a “heap of livingnash,” and his bland wife. Among thenrest are the owner (through a rich fetherin-law)nof a chic leftist periodical and an”cashmere Communist… who had nevernbeen cold, hungry, or thirsty.” His wife isn”the painted lady” of 32, a decadentnheiress with “a fece already grotesquelynthick and gleaming with make-up; fornthis difl&dent upper-class lady paintednherself like a whore and, according tonthe gossip columns, she also drank like anfish, dru^ed herself like a Chinaman andnwas, in short, systematically destroyingnherself and her marriage.” Two otherncuriosities are a beftiddled filmmakernand his latest find, a moral firappe who isntouted as the “hope of the French dnema.”nThis circle of moral vacuities is completednby a young French gigolo whonhas “to watch his waistline, take somencalcium, have that incisor straightened,nand give his always-firagile blond hair anlight shampoo,” and an Australian swindlernposing as an art appraiser.nJtXaving given us this cast of lotuseaters,nSagan does almost nothing withnthem. We are turned back and forth fromnone grouping of people to another in anseries of episodes rarely connected innany coherent manner. These charactersndo very little except drink, flirt, listennChronicles of Culturenidly to the music of the conductor andnthe opera singer, talk about love and lifenand art and all that, lounge in their decknchairs, and go to bed, always with theirnneuroses and sometimes with each other.nWhen they try to think, they producenonly intellectual cotton candy, as whennthe tide character says that “the meaningnof life was there in that inviolable innocencenof the human being, in the acceptednbut fleeting course of life, in thenmercifial inevitability of death, in somethingnelse which for her was not God,nbut about which at this precise momentnshe felt just as certain as those who apparentlynbelieved in the existence ofnGod.” Or the filmmaker, bored with hisnfrothy starlet and feeling that his careernis stymied, talks about art in banalities:n”he felt an immense hunger and a vastnhumility toward these towering peaks ofnArt, living monuments, these fabulousntreasures he had neither the time nornthe opportunity to discover. He feltnstarved for literature, for painting, fornmusic. Finally everything seemed infinitelyndesirable to him, for it was only to thenextent they could be realized that [he]ngave way to his desires For [him], thenPantheon and its illustrious dead hadnfinally reached a level of prestige com­nnnparable to United Artists and its cops.”nAnd this is about as far as things go.nThese caricatures do nothing more thannscratch their anxieties and pick the scabsnof their memories. Even the painted lady,nwho tries to escape the emptiness of hernhusband’s fashionable Marxism, finds nonexcitement in contemplating a divorcenand a romantic flight with the swindler.nThe gigolo is taunted out of the singer’snbed, commits suicide, and leaves behindnhim only the unrequited sexual hungernof the purser. The singer blithely headsnfor concerts in New York, totally unconcernednwith her abasement of others.nThe degeneracy of these people, Sagannseems to be saying, is emblematic of anlarger world for which there is no possiblenredemption. None of these charactersnhas any spiritual sources to drawnupon as they move in their sex- and moneyobsessednworld. Life is a rotten deal, andnthe only way to escape is through sex ornperversion. The lack of values in Sagan’snfictional world is best demonstrated by anwoman’s callous comment in La Chamadenas she contemplates an abortion: “anchild ties one down terribly, you know.”nPerhaps the problem is that Sagan,nlike so many modern writers, doesn’tnreally know what she wants to do ornwhere she stands philosophically. Herncharacters are ripe for satire; they havenvices and foibles which would make anJohnson, a Swift, or a Waugh reach quicklynfor his pen. But she seems to like hernpeople too much, and she cannot subjectnthem to ridicule. Perhaps she hasnfallen into the same condition she hasnnoted in other modem novelists: “theynplay with blank cartridges, defusedngrenades, leaving to their readers toncreate for themselves characters left undelineatednbetween neutral words, whilenthey, the authors, openly wash theirnhands of them Give me a Balzac, whonweeps over his heroines, his tears fallingninto his coffee, or give me a Proust, whonin his obsession with detail leaves nonroom for development.” In the same bookn(Scars on the Soul), she unwittingly describesnher own work: “It isn’t literature,nit isn’t a true confession, it’s someonen