Rosamunde Pilcher...

FLOWERS IN THE RAIN AND OTHER STORIES.

November 10, 1991|By EILEEN POWER THE CULTURE OF PAIN. David B. Morris. University of California. 342 pages. $29.95. | EILEEN POWER THE CULTURE OF PAIN. David B. Morris. University of California. 342 pages. $29.95.,LOS ANGELES TIMES @ITALIAN AND IRISH FILMMAKERS IN AMERICA. Lee Lourdeaux. Temple University. 288 pages. $29.95.

FLOWERS IN THE RAIN AND OTHER STORIES. Rosamunde Pilcher. St. Martin's. 277 pages. $20. She has written such internationally acclaimed best-selling novels as "The Shell Seekers" and "September" -- thick books detailing the lives and loves of middle-class Scottish people. Rosamunde Pilcher's work is celebrated for its well-drawn characters and complex plots.

Less well known but equally interesting are her short stories. "Flowers in the Rain and Other Stories" is a companion to an earlier collection, "The Blue Bedroom." All the stories have been previously published in such magazines as Good Housekeeping and Redbook.

The 16 stories generally are upbeat in tone. But that does not mean they are saccharine or phony. The characters struggle with tough issues; there are no easy or necessarily correct answers. "The Watershed" concerns a woman on the eve of her 30th anniversary. The family and existence are quite well established, but while attaining a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle, she cannot help but wonder about the "what-might-have-beens" of her life. In "Cousin Dorothy," a young woman reaches out to a cousin who had always been dismissed as the family eccentric.

They both grow from the experience. The crux of this thoughtful and original book lies in the distinction between two portraits that are reprinted in its pages. The first -- Rene Descartes' sketch of a nerve running from a man's foot, which is next to a fire, to his brain -- represents our contemporary notion of pain. It omits any details about time or place, suggesting that pain is merely a physiological, "organic" event.

The second -- a portrait juxtaposing Jesus' flagellation with two 15th century fathers discussing the recent deaths of their sons -- offers a more sophisticated interpretation of pain, which the author, a retired English professor, believes was lost with the advent of modern medicine: pain as a social and psychological product, caused as much by poverty, hunger and fear as by neurotransmitters and "action potentials."

Most general practitioners realize that pain often is psychosomatic, of course, a fact that Mr. Morris fails to acknowledge. But his visits with chronic-pain patients while researching this book indicate that most doctors, rather than acting on this knowledge, continue to prescribe mostly pills and rTC pins. One drill-press operator, for instance, suffering from intense elbow pain, bursts into tears when Mr. Morris asks her about her hopes and dreams. Yet when he consults her medical record, it reads, he discovers, "exactly like the history of an elbow." This well-written book appears to be based on the belief that the ethnic background of creative people enters into their work. John Ford, raised in an Irish milieu, and three filmmakers raised in Italian families (Frank Capra, Francis Coppola and Martin Scorsese), are featured.

Treatments of Irish and Italian immigrants and stereotypes serve as the introduction. We are led through the productions of each director in separate chapters, skillfully braiding their ethnic experiences with their manner of selecting themes and filmmaking. A shared commonality, according to the author, is the imprint of Catholicism through its principles of communion, mediation and sacramentality.

Mr. Lourdeaux walks a tricky path in analyzing the films of each: avoiding the trap of excessively detailing their lives and many films, while steering clear of ethnic stereotyping. Those interested in ethnic influences on outstanding persons or in the production of films by four of the best will find the book enjoyable.

ANGELO C. GILLI SR.

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