Trillin, Bodett make intriguing companions

December 23, 1990|By ANN EGERTON

Enough's Enough, and Other Rules of Life.

Calvin Trillin.

Ticknor & Fields.

251 pages. $19.95.

The Big Garage on Clear Shot: Growing Up, Growing Old and Going Fishing at the End of the Road.

Tom Bodett.


300 pages. $18.95.

Calvin Trillin writes essays about social, cultural and, to some degree, political issues. His is a topical urban voice whose sly, cutting wit darts in through the side door. Tom Bodett tells stories of small-town life in Alaska. His is a rural voice whose gentle humor ambles, also through the side door.

"Enough's Enough" is a collection of Mr. Trillin's most recently syndicated columns (April 1987-March 1990). With the exception a few heavy-handed efforts (on Vice President Quayle and on designer garbage bags, for example) and some repetitious phrasing ("it's just a theory," "just an idea") that grow tiresome in a collection, he rarely misses with his angled observations.

The title signals his feelings about life in America today. Subjects run the gamut from the trend to call acquaintances by their first names ("if someone you don't know starts calling you by your first name, keep your hand on your wallet") to word rejections by his computer spell-check ("how could my spell-check expect me to get through eight years of the Reagan administration without the word 'wacko'?"), to the wonder of seeing Gorbachev on the cover of Vanity Fair ("whose previous notion of an appropriate European cover subject was Claus Von Bulow"). Moods run from the wry, such as when he examines the impossible standards set by obsessive garbage recyclers, to the scathing: ". . . there is widespread agreement that Noriega's arrest will have no effect on the drug trade -- except, perhaps, in its reminder that our government was willing to keep a known drug trafficker on its payroll for years."

Mr. Bodett's "The Big Garage on Clear Shot," which is named for the only gathering place large enough for the townspeople of End of the Road, is another collection of stories about the community he made famous in his book named after the town, and in his National Public Radio commentary. The reader can catch up with the latest doings of environmental activist Tamara and her holistic doctor friend, Tony; with Argus and Ruby and their December romance; with the rebuilding of Stormy and Kristen's house after the first was destroyed by fire; with the purchase of Emily's new car; with the Ed's accident; and with the tumultuous adolescence of Norman. We also meet newcomer Emmitt and witness his astonishing conversion to fishing and outdoor life, and wonder at the artistic career of the village idiot Doug McDoogan.

Mr. Bodett's phrasing is fresh, his story telling is graceful and warm. He describes one teen-ager as "a Third World Country of a boy." He calls End of the Road "a sort of grease trap of America." And on the house-raising: "there's something heavenly about erecting things taller than we are. Like little towers of Babel, every wall raised by our hands seems to bring us closer to some inexplicable reward." Mr. Bodett gets deadly serious when his characters confront the recent Exxon oil spill: One man announced he was going back to Illinois rather than deal with the pain of the damage.

The stories in "The Big Garage on Clear Shot" are about community; "arguments [in the End of the Road] were a form of recreation, and no matter how violent your attitude or proper your position, when the argument was over, you were just part of the community.") The essays in "Enough's Enough" are about individuals -- both famous and unknown -- and issues and trends. Many are clever slices of modern times, about packing the family car, about cockroaches in computers, about the dearth of gossip in the Soviet Union ("there are 262 million Russians who don't know the first thing about Elizabeth Taylor"). They also show, in inimitable deadpan tone, a country whose people are at odds with each other and that is rent by materialism, greed and deadening triviality. As disparate as these books are, they make interesting companion pieces.

Ms. Egerton is a writer living in Baltimore.

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