Bette Pesetsky Christopher Lehmann-Haupt - Essay

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Women are the "savage people" in the title of Bette Pesetsky's effective first novel, "Author From a Savage People"—at least according to the book's epigraph, which reads "'You're savages,' the politician said. 'Women are savages. I've always known that Civilization has never reached women.'"

As for the "author" in the title: it obviously refers to the story's protagonist, May Alto, who is both a writer and a woman, and thus an "author from a savage people." But it also could refer to an author that the "savage people" as a class are addressing—a male writer, possibly, who, the women might feel, was exploiting them and thus would need to be petitioned in a letter sent to the "author from a savage people," as it were.

These ambiguous meanings of "author" are mostly captured in Mrs. Pesetsky's novel, which follows by about a year the publication of her impressive collection of short fiction, "Stories Up to a Point."…

[The plot may] sound a bit far-fetched, especially the idea of awarding the Nobel Prize to a two-book author who sounds like a cross between Kahlil Gibran and Lewis Mumford. But in the world created by Mrs. Pesetsky's mordant, hallucinatory prose, such extremes seem not only possible but also downright plausible.

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, in a review of "Author from a Savage People," in The New York Times (copyright © 1983 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 18, 1983, p. C15.