Books: Truth Is a Snake

A MAN IN THE WHEATFIELD by Robert Laxalt. 178 pages. Harper & Row. $3.95.

Smale Calder kept rattlesnakes. He tamed them, talked with them, let them crawl on his arms and shoulders and dart their tongues in his face. To him they meant the cruel beauty of reality, and his control of them was a conquest of nature at its deadliest. When he first showed up in the sun-drenched nameless village in the Southwestern desert, nobody knew about his peculiar hobby.

The mayor, a paternalistic despot who had created the town and peopled it entirely with fellow immigrants from Italy, knew Smale Calder...

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