Duke University Alumni Magazine

The Third and Only Way: Reflections On Staying Alive

By Helen Bevington. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. 209 pp. $21.95.

oward the end of her lyrical, literary autobiography, Helen Bevington ponders the difference between tourists and travelers. The former, she observers, complain about the surroundings, have excessive expectations, amass souvenirs. Travelers, on the other hand, revel in the moment, embrace the local culture, delight in the journey. It is a fitting analogy for Bevington's own life.

     A Duke professor emeritus of English, Bevington has taught creative writing; contributed to the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Times Book Review; and written a number of well-received books, including three volumes of autobiography. In this, her fourth, she reflects on her own life and those of others, the stay-at-home poets and the wandering adventurers. Through her curiosity at how others conduct themselves, and her willingness to share anecdotes of her own, she emerges as a true traveler, a pragmatist who recognizes the dangers and setbacks along the way, but a seasoned optimist as well, cager to take the next promising, unpredictable path.

     The title of the book refers to Bevington's quest to find a way to live and thrive that is different from the ways chosen by her parents. Divorced when Bevington was two, her mother never remarried and died at nearly ninety, living alone yet calmly accepting of her fate, Bevington's father, whose cherished second wife died leaving him in an inconsolable state of grief, chose to commit a slow, wasting suicide. The book finds Bevington, who still lives in Durham, dedicated to discovering a third way, one that avoids the loneliness of isolation and the hopelessness of despair. But having been through her own share of pain -- her husband's death, her son's suicide -- Bevington is forced to confront the doubts and fears that have plagued humankind throughout time.

     "The obligation not to be unhappy -- it makes sense as a provident way, not found by chance or available for the asking," she writes. "There are nights of seeming panic when tomorrow can't be imagined, and you wait it out till daylight to begin another day. You marvel at the terror of existence."

     How, then, to untangle the mysteries of this mortal coil! Bevington finds compelling lessons -- both praiseworthy and pitiable -- in history and literature, from Socrates and Sappho to Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf. In short passages that last no more than a page or three, she relays fascinating details about whole lives unfulfilled or single moments of utmost clarity. She segues effortlessly between being both an objective scholar and (mild) moral judge, recounting, for example, the high price of heedless couplings (Claire Clairmont and Lord Byron) or the brave stand of cultural contrarians (Lucy Stone, a nineteenth- century feminist believed to he the first woman to retain her maiden name upon marriage), There are quotes from philosophers and rogues, examples of selflessness and greed.

     Bevington wants to assure the reader, and herself, that there is consolation in considering both extremes. Venturing into unchartered territory, however noble the intent, has its risks. Saints can stumble. At the same time, an error in judgment doesn't have to spell out a remaining, wretched existence. We can recover, at least in part, from mistakes and heartbreaks. Perhaps, she suggests, we can count on the future only to the extent that we accept that life vacillates between expectation and accomplishment. Bevington finds comfort in Marcus Aurelius' view that "the end to seek in life is not happiness," she writes. "It is peace of mind."

     An engaging writer of both prose and poetry (which she generously shares throughout the book), Bevington brings warmth and humor to whatever subject she chooses. Her formidable intellect is tempered by honest self-reflection. Few writers could embrace a range of topics -- Dante's Inferno, the Big Bang theory of the universe, the preferred color of gardens, Ingmar Bergman films, Duke professor J.B. Rhyne's extrasensory perception experiments, the Bloomsbury group, the habits of writers, and the quirks of artists -- with the agility and accessibility that Bevington does.

     The Third and Only Way is a sparkling gift to anyone, young or old, who wonders about this delicate dance of life. She may occasionally find herself alone, sitting under a tree reflecting on the progression of years, but she will always have the company of an appreciative audience that awaits her next revelation. As she herself admits in the poem, "And Yet," Bevington has certainly gleaned enough wisdom to go around:

    And yet it's always so:
    The way you try to outwit nemesis
    And laugh at doom, mock fate, show
    Disrespect for wrath, escape
    Your destiny. But, look, it's only
    Part of the jest, the same absurdity.
    And I'm the one to know.
-- Bridget Booher

Like Night and Day: Unionization in a Southern Mill Town

By Daniel J. Clark A.M. '85, Ph.D. '89. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 272 pp. $49.95 cloth; $16.95 paper.

     The author, a visiting history professor at Oakland University in Michigan, demonstrates the dramatic impact unionization made on the lives of textile workers in Henderson, North Carolina, in the decade after World War II.

The Corps and the Shore

By Orrin H. Pilkey and Katharine L. Dixon M.E.M, '89. Washington: Island Press. 27Z pp. $22.95.

     James B. Duke geology professor Pilkey, the nation's most outspoken coastal expert, and Dixon, an educator and activist for national coastal policy reform, provide a comprehensive examination of the impact of coastal processes on developed areas and the ways in which the Army Corps of Engineers has attempted to manage erosion along America's coastline.

Living by the Rules of the Sea

By David Bush, Orrin H, Pilkey, and William J. Neal. Durham: Duke University Press, 179 pp. $49.95 cloth; $17.95 paper.

     Part of the Living with the Shore series by Duke Press, this book by three geologists is a primer for those living along the nation's coastlines, considering moving to the coast, or wanting a greater understanding of the risks and dangers when living by the seaside.

Saturday Afternoon Madness: The Ultimate College Football Road Trip

By Bob Waldstein M.B.A. '92 and Phil Sikerman, with Wayne Ellis, Boston: Four Horsemen Press. 284 pp. $13.95.

     Described as "Phil and Bob's Excellent Adventure," this journal is the result of what happens when two sports fanatics "throw away their mundane careers, purchase a dilapidated funeral limousine, and travel cross-country in search of the wildest, wackiest, and most wonderful characters and traditions surrounding college football."

Presidential Lies: The Illustrated History of White House Golf

By Shepherd Campbell and Peter Landau '55. New York: Macmillan Publishing USA. 276 pp. 23.95.

     Two former Newsweek editors, who both are professionally and personally associated with golf, combine the game, the gossip, and presidential history in this lushly illustrated book. Landau is historian of the St, Andrews Golf Club in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and a member of the Golf Collectors Society.

Setting the Virgin on Fire: Lazaro Cardenas, Michocan Peasants, and the Redemption of the Mexican Revolution

By Marjorie Becker '74, A.M. '80 Berkley: University of California Press. 188 pp. $14.95.

     Becker, associate professor of history at the University of Southern California, reconstructs the cultural encounters that led to Mexico's post-revolutionary government. She sets aside the mythology surrounding president Lazaro Cardenas to reveal his dilemma: Until he and his followers understood peasants, they could not govern.

Abiding Courage: African-American Migrant Women and the East Bay Community

By Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo Ph.D. '93. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 232 pp. $29.95 cloth; $14.95 paper.

     The author, an assistant professor of history and director of women's studies at St. Mary's College in Moraga, California, recovers the remarkable experiences of the African-American women who moved from the rural South to the East Bay area of northern California during World War II. Their search was for the social and economic mobility associated with the region's expanding defense industry and its reputation for greater racial tolerance.

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