A Compassionate View

A Compassionate View

THE BEAT OF LIFE, by Barbara Probst Solomon. Lippincott & Co.

With sympathy and honesty, Barbara Probst Solomon has written a book about her own generation. In The Beat of Life the “beat” and the “silent” young are not being ruthlessly parodied, or attacked by older intellectuals who have never shared their problems. There are no accusations of apathy and aimlessness here, nor will Mrs. Solomon’s contemporaries have to listen with embarrassment as they are blamed for living badly in a rotten world. Instead the conditions of that world, and what they do to two young lives, are set before us in a deliberately uncompli. cated story whose purpose is to describe and understand before criticizing. This attempt alone would make the novel unique, but the fact that the writer succeeds in understanding and in maintaining a compassionate tone throughout, makes it a great pleasure to read.

Timothy Lanahan and Natasha Thompson, the hero and heroine, live out their hapless love affair almost in hiding, asking nothing of a world so distant from their own concerns that it seems to demand nothing of them. One might say that they are “free”—but only in a totally negative sense of the word. They are free from family life, from parental authority, from traditions of any sort, from material want, perhaps even from moral imperatives. It is the sort of freedom one has when the only life possible is utterly formless. Natasha and Tim seem to live only destructively; their child is efficiently aborted; they avoid getting married; Natasha’s suicide is an apallingly thoughtless one; and Tim’s endurance of her death is mechanical.

The result of their isolation is that Natasha and Tim no longer seem to possess that desire to involve themselves with other people which forms part of what we call loneliness. They have left home not because they wished to find a more congenial world, but only to hide out in a more neutral one. The Puerto Rican upper West Side is so foreign to them that they never consider participating in its life. The life of the poor is exotic, strange, a spectacle rather than a reality. Tim admits that they are vicariously “feeding on” the sadness and the shabbiness of someone else’s existence. But the author has subtly shown that not even their vicarious appetites are very avid. Gone is the delight of the middle-class college graduate who escapes from a small town to Greenwich Village or to a Lower East Side slum. These young people are far too conscious that “Neither of [them] has been poor, is poor, or probably ever will be poor.”

In fact, Tim thinks that his generation can have the “good things” only by pretending, by imitating something foreign to it. The exciting ages all seem to be past. Everything from jazz to the political enthusiasm of the ’30’s and the patriotism of World War II belongs to othe...