The Black Box
All New Cockpit
Voice Recorder
Accounts of

Malcolm MacPherson, Editor
(Quill/William Morrow)

The author advises that you might not want to read this before you embark on an airplane trip. I would also suggest that you not read it before breakfast. There are twenty-eight recordings from the famous black boxes, which record (and save) everything said and heard in the cockpit --- in this case --- right up to and including the moment of impact.

The horror is not so much the after as the before. Pilots, co-pilots, flight engineers not only talk their technical jargon, but also give out jokes, rather intimate musings on their personal lives, flirt-talk with stewardesses, and long descriptions --- in one case --- of the gooney birds on Midway Island:

    "They were hilarious...You'd get ready to take off. They'd send a pickup truck out and they'd go move the birds off the runway so you could take off..."

These innocents do not know that in a minute or two they will be porridge, but you and I have that knowledge --- and as with any tragedy --- the foreknowledge creates an almost unbearable tension. You pick up Black Box and two hours later you are putting it down and vowing never to fly again.

Mixed in with the usual messages to the passengers --- "We're going to be flying at an altitude of 37,000 feet, the wind is from the north at ten miles an hour, the weather in Dallas is clear and 51 degrees, and we should be on time" --- are all the technical details: checklists and cross feeds and DME and Slats and Spoilers and Vee One and Vee Two (none of which, by-the-bye, is enough to save their asses.) Mixed with this is talk about girlfriends, and having to take a pee, and the onerous burden of FAA rules, and the type of fruit juice the stewardess is going to send in and then:

[Sound of several thuds]"We've got a left engine out...flight idle...god damn...emergency." Then End of Tape. And, at the same moment, the end of three or thirty-three or, in one horrendous case, 505 lives.

What are the very last words of pilots and copilots and engineers who obviously, in the last few seconds, without a doubt, know that they have reached the end of the line? Often it is what you would expect: "Pull it up, pull it UP!" or "Help me hold it!" or "We're goin' down!" or this from USAir Flight 426, Pittsburgh, September 8, 1994:

    CAPTAIN: Four twenty-seven, emergency!
    COPILOT: [Screams]
    CAPTAIN: Pull...
    COPILOT: Oh...
    CAPTAIN: Pull...pull...
    COPILOT: God...
    CAPTAIN: [Screams]
    COPILOT: No...

Equally, there might be a simple "Aagh!" Or, again, "Damn it!" Or the wonderfully understated "Uh-oh." Or (Air France Flight 296Q, June 26, 1988) "Aw, Shit!"

MacPhearson has edited these tapes, but from our experience, some of the editing is flawed. When PSA Flight 182 went down in San Diego in 1978, the local newspaper carried the final minute of the black box dialogue. Here in the book, it has been elided: it merely ends with [Sound of stall warning]. The San Diego Tribune, gave the final sentence to another PSA captain who had hitched a ride with them from Los Angeles. His last words were, quite simply, "Mama, I love you." It spoke volumes.

--- Jorge Amado

A Cricket in
The Telephone
(At Sunset)

Lolita Lark, Editor
(Mho & Mho)

This is ostensibly an anthology of the best poetry that appeared in the peculiar quarterly called The Fessenden Review during its five year existence. If one pays attention to the sequence of the poems, and the names of the poets themselves, and the so-called "Introduction" (and even the "Index of First Lines"), one gets the distinct feeling that one is being diddled with. Indeed, this may be the first time, in late 20th Century English literature, that a book billed as an anthology of poetry turns out to be a Nabokovian chess game, with a puzzle of names right out of Joyce, and mystery worthy of Raymond Chandler.

The "Introduction" says that the magazine depended on its readers for reviews, but

    We also created a stable of fake names so that people would think we had a vast staff awaiting our assignments: Ignacio Schwartz, Jeremy Colon, Wanda Felix, Carlos Amantea, T. F. Bierly, A. W. Allworthy...and my personal favorite, P. P. McFeelie.

Confoundedly, this anthology includes poems ostensibly produced by these very same "fake" writers. Furthermore, in one of the footnotes, the publisher states that The Fessenden Review featured on the cover of its penultimate issue names of such authors as

    Günter Grass,
    Nadine Gordimer,
    Nancy Mitford,
    Umberto Eco,
    Lawrence Durrell
    (even though neither reviews of works of these authors nor their writings appeared in the magazine.)

He then says that the list also contained

    ...names that sounded literary but that were strictly whole-cloth: Isabel Luis Corazon, Anwak Fayoumi, P. J. Weise, Jorge Amado, Lolita Lark, Laura Huxley. Names to test people. Just to make sure they were paying attention.
The puzzle here is that Laura Huxley is in no way "whole-cloth" (she is a respected writer and critic.) But even more peculiar, at least to this reviewer, is the fact that the very editor of A Cricket is the same (supposedly mythical) Lolita Lark. Unless, of course, there are many more Lolita Larks floating around out there in literary la-la land.

Finally, in the "Index to First Lines," we find not only poems carried in the collection, but Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita (which is the opening line of Dante's Divine Comedy,) and Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab orbis which is, I believe, the beginning of the Aeneid.

In all, A Cricket is a very peculiar collection of fancy, but --- despite all this tomfoolery --- the poetry some of the best to come out of America in the 80s and 90s. If there weren't so much dicking-around here, perhaps the volume would receive the credit it deserves.

Traveling to an
African Beat

Lieve Joris
Translated by Sam Garrett
(Lonely Planet)

The wonderful people who have given us the Lonely Planet Guides to the world are branching out with narrative travelogues and our feeling --- at least with this one --- is they should have stuck to the pure guides. Joris, they tell us, is an "acclaimed" and "award-winning" Belgian travel writer --- but her writing style is pedestrian and her vision is limited --- at least in Mali Blues --- to a very small part of Africa. If her focus were broader (or even narrower), it might have worked. If, for instance, she stayed in Mauritania for a year, and described in depth the people and government and games and music and children and poverty and new colonialism, she probably would have given us something to write home about.

For instance, in the title essay, "Mali Blues," she describes at length her visit with the famous Mali musician Kar Kar, but her questions and his responses leave us with the feeling that he was somewhat saintly to put up with her not-very-inspired interview, even though she does succeed in giving us an interesting portrait of a famous musician not caught up in money, agents, and the perks of the international musical life.

If you plan to spend the rest of your life god forbid in Senegal, you might want to pick this one up and take it with you --- but from her hot and dusty descriptions --- if nothing else, Joris has convinced us that we are probably better off staying in Rahway, New Jersey for the summer.

--- Anwak Fayoumi

How the Flow of Air
Has Shaped Life,
Myth, and The Land

Jan DeBlieu
(Houghton Mifflin)

Once you get into it, into descriptions of wind and the seas and storms and currents, it may be worth it, but --- at times --- Wind smells of a writer not having very much to do one cold fall morning and since she has published a couple of "nature" books, she's got a bit of a name --- she wakes up and thinks, "I bet I could write a book out of thin air, about, say, thin air."

So she sends off a prospectus to her agent, and sure enough, a couple of publishers figure they don't have much in the hopper about wind this season, and one, Houghton Mifflin, nibbles, with a bit of an advance, and DeBlieu spends the next year looking up important facts about Wind in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible and in Holy Wind in Navajo Philosophy an with a few personal observations from her home in Cape Hatteras (the wind capital of the world) and Puff! --- she has a book.

One reviewer, improvidently, compares DeBlieu to Rachel Carson, ignoring the fact that that latter wrote not under contract, but with passion and fearsome involvement in the cause of ecological havoc. DeBlieu, on the other hand, came up with a comfortable advance, a compliant publisher, and a made-to-order bit of scientific puffery which, if you excuse the expression, won't blow your mind --- even though it does have its moments.

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