An astonishingly vapid pornographic fantasy, from the Brown/Columbia professor whose previous labors in this vineyard (The American Woman in the Chinese Hat, 1994, etc.) have been praised by some as masterly. Maso does not so much write books as collate fragments. Like The American Woman, this is a collection of poetic riffs and very short vignettes drawn together by voice rather than narrative, thus lacking a strongly sustained unifying element. Such stories as emerge are imagistic, slight, and entirely hermetic: ``The Women Wash Lentils'' portrays two women discussing food in bed, whereas ``Exquisite Hour'' and ``The Changing Room'' are straightforward recollections of sexual encounters. Erotic fiction, as a rule, is a train that can't carry much literary freight without getting bogged down in pretension, and here the game is given away in the very first line (``When they are French, which they often are, especially in bed they say derangement''). The exotic settings (usually French), the epicurean obsession with food (usually oysters), and the kinky sex (usually on a beach) are pornographic clichÇs along the lines of stiletto heels or fishnet stockings, and little is added to them by Maso's rambling meditative digressions (``You're in love with the crazy white-haired girl. She's sewing poems into her sleeve, they read: `dreamy lighthouse keeper mild Steven' ''). Although the poetic sequences contain striking passages and vivid images, they can't convey a story in any recognizable sense, running the high risk of rapidly coming to seem pointless. Unfortunately, they form almost the whole of the book. In all, turgid and pompous.
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