WARD.Andrew Greeley.Warner.452 pages...


May 12, 1991|By EILEEN POWER @GOOD ROCKIN' TONIGHT: SUN RECORDS AND THE BIRTH OF ROCK 'N' ROLL. Colin Escott with Martin Hawkins. St. Martin's. 233 pages. $19.95. | EILEEN POWER @GOOD ROCKIN' TONIGHT: SUN RECORDS AND THE BIRTH OF ROCK 'N' ROLL. Colin Escott with Martin Hawkins. St. Martin's. 233 pages. $19.95.,LOS ANGELES TIMES THE RIVER. Gary Paulsen. Delacorte. 140 pages. $15. Ages 10 and up.



Andrew Greeley.


452 pages. $19.95.

On the surface, Jerry Keenan had everything. Born into a wealthy, devout Catholic Chicago family, he possessed good looks and had a future as a lawyer. But then came World War II and a harrowing tour of the Pacific Theater. Although he returned a decorated hero and was unhurt, Jerry constantly relives the horrors of seeing his friends die and knowing he caused the deaths of other men. Before resuming his life in Chicago, Jerry decides to drive across the country and try to expunge his nightmares.

In Tucson, Jerry watches a beautiful woman enter a diner. He follows and joins her for a cup of coffee. Her name is Andrea King. Taken by his charm and easy manner, Andrea accompanies Jerry for a ride into the Sonoma Desert. After a brief tryst, she disappears. Jerry tries to find Andrea and begins piecing together a different picture beginning with her real name -- Maggie Ward.

Andrew Greeley's "The Search for Maggie Ward" has an unusual premise with a nice time period. But Mr. Greeley overwrites the scenes, and there is simply too much introspection and padding. Jerry comes off as more a lump than a desperate character searching for his soul.

"Unadulterated life" -- that's what Sam Phillips was after when he opened the Memphis, Tenn., recording studio in 1950 that would lead to Sun Records and a place in rock history. Phillips would "discover" -- how the musicians hated that word! -- Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and others, but the authors wisely give as much room to the rockabilly and country artists who failed to make it as to those who did. That approach is true to Mr. Phillips' own, for he too believed that raw, heartfelt talent is more interesting than the overproduced, commercial sound sought (then as now) by larger record labels.

Elvis appears in this book, of course, but it is the little-known details that make "Good Rockin' Tonight" fun -- the all-inmate group called the Prisonaires, the mentally disturbed pianist who would suddenly start playing Chopin in the middle of a stage show, Carl Perkins' writing of "Blue Suede Shoes." He spelled it, with perfect logic, "swaed."

Everything seemed too safe and easy to Brian. Derek, a psychologist who taught people the art of survival, invited him to replay the 54 days described in "Hatchet," Gary Paulsen's Newbery Honor book. Derek's idea was to accompany Brian as he repeated the experience, but this time there would be a tent, and food, and pots and pans, and a radio, and Derek, who would be taking notes.

When Brian demands that Derek send back the supplies and leave them to a more realistic situation, Derek insists on keeping the radio, at least. The adventure begins with everything happening as Brian remembers. The mosquitoes, the rain, the search for food -- all go as he expects, all "smooth and easy" -- until the unexpected happens and Brian must find a way to rescue the comatose Derek.

For the thousands of readers who wanted to know Brian better, (( who wondered how he changed and how he would adjust to civilization and whether he would learn to accept his parents' separation and divorce, Mr. Paulsen has written this sequel. Is "The River" as enjoyable as "Hatchet"? Like Brian, the reader first feels too comfortable, knowing what to expect. Once Brian is on new ground, the excitement and suspense take hold.


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