ME.Letty Cottin Pogrebin.Crown.396...


October 27, 1991|By GERRI KOBREN A COLLECTION OF CONTEMPORARY GOTHIC FICTION. Edited by Bradford Morrow and Patrick McGrath. Random House. 337 pages. $22. | GERRI KOBREN A COLLECTION OF CONTEMPORARY GOTHIC FICTION. Edited by Bradford Morrow and Patrick McGrath. Random House. 337 pages. $22.,LOS ANGELES TIMES COMEBACK. Dick Francis. Putnam. 320 pages. $21.95.


Letty Cottin Pogrebin.


396 pages. $22.

Being female and Jewish means being doubly disadvantaged, according to feminist author Letty Cottin Pogrebin. It's a man's world after all, in which Jews are a distinct minority; and even in the women's movement, sisterhood has not been powerful enough to overcome anti-Semitism.

Despite that thesis -- which is, by the way, proved, and prove again -- this is no strident tract, though it does set off a lot of angry clicks when you realize you've seen the same infuriating damn thing, and never reacted before.

Born into a traditional Jewish family in New York, Ms. Pogrebin was born again as a non-religious feminist at age 15, when her mother died and her father would not count her in the quorum for memorial prayers, because she was female. Fifteen years after that, she began her reconciliation with Judaism when she served as volunteer cantor at makeshift High Holy Day prayers in a vacation community.

Reconciling her faith in humanity with the ugliness of anti-Semitism has been more difficult. Ms. Pogrebin is perhaps naive in her belief that women can talk their way through hostility, but she should be lauded for the effort as she should be lauded for this riveting, touching and stylishly written book. The traditional Gothic landscape usually consisted of gloomy castles, foreboding cliffs and stormy weather with passions to match. Today's Gothic writers, though they may have contemporary settings, share a comparable tone with their earlier counterparts. This admirable collection of short stories demonstrates that Gothic fiction is neither musty nor outdated.

Here, terror and horror are largely psychological, although the bloodshed is often more explicit. The authors range from the established (Martin Amis, Joyce Carol Oates, an excerpt from Anne Rice's "Interview With the Vampire") to the countercultural (Kathy Acker's AIDS metaphor piece "J").

"For Dear Life," by Ruth Rendell, is instantly recognizable as classic Gothic with a modern location as a privileged, sheltered young woman takes her first ride on a subway. A twisted tale of Hollywood emerges from Angela Carter's "The Merchant of Shadows" when an eager writer tracks down a legendary and reclusive film star. While it may not create new Gothic fans, devotees will find here several pleasant shivers. In the world of horses, some things never change. Every year, the Kentucky Derby is the first Saturday in May. Every year, horsemen await the second coming of Secretariat. And every year, Dick Francis churns out another racetrack mystery.

After more than two dozen of these novels, one would think the formula might become stale, but it never does. In "Comeback," his latest entry, Mr. Francis shows why.

He still delivers an elaborate plot that baffles to the end -- in this case, a mystery surrounding the deaths of racehorses at a prominent veterinary hospital. He still sketches characters we can believe: the veterinarian whose spirit sags under the pressure, the diplomat who discovers secrets of his own past as he unravels the mystery.

It's no wonder he remains a best seller among mystery buffs. In fact, he's been followed by a series of authors cashing in on the richness of life at the track, among them William Murray, with his Shifty Anderson mysteries, and Stephen Dobyns, with his tales of detective Charlie Bradshaw's exploits in Saratoga.


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