TRIBAL SECRETS.Eugene Izzi.Bantam.376 pages. $15. Despite...

BOOK BRIEFS

November 01, 1992|By GREGORY N. KROLCZYK I BEEN IN SORROW'S KITCHEN AND LICKED OUT ALL THE POTS. Susan Straight. Hyperion. ` 355 pages. $19.95. | GREGORY N. KROLCZYK I BEEN IN SORROW'S KITCHEN AND LICKED OUT ALL THE POTS. Susan Straight. Hyperion. ` 355 pages. $19.95.,LOS ANGELES TIMES

TRIBAL SECRETS.

Eugene Izzi.

Bantam.

376 pages. $15. Despite becoming an "overnight" success, thanks to a starring role in a recent made-for-TV movie, Babe Hill was anything but happy. Suddenly, an awful lot of people wanted something from him: the backers of his movie want him for a sequel, and they're not the sort of people to whom you can say no; his father, a minor league mob player, has ripped off his employers; and, his idolizing younger brother has finally found something he enjoys doing -- killing. If that wasn't enough, there was Edna Rose, an emotionally disturbed woman who was sure that she and Babe were just meant for each other, and will do anything to prove it. Yes, everybody wanted a piece of Babe. They were all going to get it, too, one way or the other.

With this, his ninth book, it seems obvious that Eugene Izzi has hit his comfort zone. Unfortunately, that's not good news for fans of his best novels (both paperback originals). As in his previous two efforts, Mr. Izzi spends too much time trying to develop his characters, and too little time putting them to good use.

D8 Maybe if we're lucky, he'll write another paperback. Marietta sees the picture of "Africa Woman," Mary. The light shines harshly on the face so that one half is silver, the other half, night-black-- with no eyes or mouth as if a mask had been placed to one side.

Susan Straight's first novel, "I Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots," is heavy with this type of symbolic writing. Although she is white, Ms. Straight writes from a black consciousness, creating characters almost as compelling as those in Toni Morrison's fiction.

Marietta, for example, is a larger-than-life woman with blue-black skin, living in the Gullah-speaking Low Country of South Carolina. She comes of age in the 1960s South and later makes it as a single mother with twin sons, in California. She searches for her uncle, for her father and for her African roots. Eva, called Aunt Sister, serves as Marietta's guide on this stunning journey into the dark heart of the female psyche.

DIANE SCHARPER

MARK AND LIVY: THE LOVE

STORY OF MARK TWAIN

AND THE WOMAN

WHO ALMOST TAMED HIM.

Resa Willis.

Atheneum.

334 pages. $25.

That Livy Clemens, wife to Samuel Clemens-Mark Twain for 34 years, was an intelligent and deeply conscientious woman may be gauged from her thoughts following his declaration of bankruptcy in 1894. When Clemens wrote gleefully that his financial adviser, Standard Oil executive Henry Rogers, was saying "caustic and telling things" to creditors, Livy responded, "It is money honestly owed and I cannot understand the tone which both you & Mr. Rogers seem to take. . . . I should think it was the creditors' place to say caustic things to us."

As literature professor Resa Willis makes clear, this was a union of complementary parts. To Clemens, Livy was "my dear little gravity," the stable center of his impulsive world, while Clemens to Livy was impetuous "youth," the eternal spark of life. Livy read and edited virtually all of Clemens' manuscripts, and although Dr. Willis exaggerates her editorial role -- Livy served primarily as Twain's bowdlerizer, according to the evidence presented -- there's no question about her importance in his life. She was a fine hostess, and a ready conversationalist and sounding board, despite poor health. Livy suffered from neurasthenia for most of her life, the "nervous prostration" that afflicted upper-class women in the 19th century (undoubtedly because they were so woefully underutilized as individuals).

Clemens, writes Dr. Willis, "erred to be pardoned," and in Livy he found the tolerant, indulgent helpmate who seemed to know just when to pull in his lead and when to let him run.

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