Nat Hentoff Digs Bill Manville's Book
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October 27, 1960, Vol. VI, No. 1
By Nat Hentoff
Nat reviews his colleague Bill Manville's newly released book, "Saloon Society."
I have heard speculation as to whether Manville actually records these conversations or peoples his columns with the colony of volatile skeptics inside himself. It's something like asking whether Simenon ever actually saw a murder. Manville animates what many of us have been hearing in ourselves and overhearing in others for a long, long time. It is not so much that we are recurringly depressed by an ennui of the time, but rather by a steadily more ominous rootlessness. Like, to what and whom are we supposed to become "well-adjusted?"
Some, to be sure, find a plateau of relative meaningfulness (or at least activity) and settle into a reassuringly regular tension in work, reform politics, children. A very few - Ashton Jones of the past two columns, or Dorothy Day - find and can believe in absolutes outside themselves and so can be happy when unhappy, even happier. But most of us keep wondering why something is always missing, and what it is. Worse yet, like Lou the Ladies Man, there is the further fear that is seldom thought out: "Kugel, I dread the good times ahead."
As the tone of this review may indicate, in reading Manville all together, the tenderness of his seeming celebrations is much more evident than in the weekly reports. The funny parts are still funny - all the material except the one-liners is better the second time around - but in total context, this is not exactly a gleeful catechism. Its communicants want so desperately "to live - generous, naked, overabundant and noisy" - in contrast to the way it is that the sound of their own voices between drinks can suddenly appall, like the first time you hear yourself on a record...
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