QUENCH THE LAMP.
173 pages. $14.95.
"Quench the Lamp" reads like a prose poem written to childhood. Here, Alice Taylor looks back to rural Ireland of the late 1940s and early 1950s and writes a sequel to her earlier memoir, "To School Through the Fields." These are simple descriptive stories that show Ms. Taylor bound to her past by countless ties of love.
Closely observing friends in County Cork, she focuses on "souls [that] easily awaken to poetry." Take Bridgie washing the heavy lace bedspread and wondering aloud: "How many did you born? How many did you bury? All life has passed beneath you from the beginning to the end. What beauty."
Reminiscent of Dylan Thomas' poem, "Fern Hill," these recollections describe the child awakening to a green and golden world. But even as she awakens, she's aware of that world's impermanence. Although the book lacks an epigraph, one from Dylan Thomas suggests itself: "Time held me green and dying/ Though I sang in my chains like the sea."
The tripling in teen suicides from 1950 to 1980 has spawneno dearth of books on "our troubled youth," but an unsettling number have been written by authors bearing a pained and bemused expression not unlike a mother's seeing her son's baseball fly through the living room window.
Not so "Teenage Wasteland." Although a sociologist and social worker in her mid-30s, Donna Gaines hasn't severed all ties to her adolescence of school failures, drug overdoses and jail stays: She still dresses in full black leather regalia and hangs out with teens at heavy metal concerts and drag-racing shows. Ms. Gaines lets these details "slip" in a transparent attempt to elicit our trust in a writing style which often speaks for teens rather than quoting them as would a faithful oral historian. But she later wins our trust more respectably with unpretentious analysis (when asked why kids do it, she responds, "Because they had bad lives") and a host of fresh insights.
Where most authorities speculate, for instance, that teens commit suicide because they feel disconnected from society, Ms. Gaines believes they are usually too connected: too constrained by unmeaningful jobs, too regulated and too burdened by the tacit expectation that they will succeed where their parents failed.
In August 1945 kamikaze pilot Saburo Genda climbed into his Zero fighter for what he thought was the last time. Fanatical in his dedication, Genda was determined to wreck the American war machine. Before he could take off, his mission was terminated. The Americans had detonated atomic bombs in two Japanese cities and ended the war. Genda not only lost his parents in the blasts, but his wife was raped by Americans during the occupation. For Genda, the war would never end: In 1991 he receives word that he is dying of cancer. He recruits several Japanese leftists to implement his plan to ruin a forthcoming treaty between the United States and Japan.
As terrorist incidents mount, the United States dispatches Japanese-American George Sakai to investigate. Sakai's inquiries begin pointing toward a much larger conspiracy than merely a series of random incidents aimed at Americans.
In two previous thrillers -- "Icemen" and "Sword of the Shaheen," M. E. Morris gained a reputation for offbeat thrillers in unusual locales with interesting characters. The same formula is present in "The Last Kamikaze," but the novel suffers from flat characters; Genda and Sakai are singularly one-dimensional. But one interesting aspect of Mr. Morris' writing style is that he is one of the few writers who uses minorities as his heroes.