From prolific novelist Stern (The Suicide Academy, Final Cut, An Urban Affair, etc.) come six short stories, each in some way built upon, or paying homage to, a well-known masterwork of modern literature. The uneven results range from the strained and thin to the richly hilarious. Weakest here may be "A Clean Well-Lighted Place by Ernest Hemingway" (about failed—and ludicrous—plans to make a movie of the famous story), with its tendency only to parody the cheaper aspects of Hemingway rather than celebrate the richer. Smooth but slight is "The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud" (a couple discovers patterns of deaths in each of their erotic pasts); and, though touched by the style and plottings of the master, "Brooksmith by Henry James" remains contrived and meager in its contemporary metamorphosis (a teacher meets, in later life, an ex-student who has managed to rise from the ghetto). More complex on its own fictional terms (and salted with the insider lore of New York publishing) is "Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster," in which a wheelchair-bound editor struggles brilliantly as midwife to a novel by an unlettered but tale-burdened Vietnam vet. Opening the volume is another archetypally New Yorkish story—"The Liberal Tradition by Lionel Trilling"—evoking wonderfully and with comic sadness the heady days of boundless liberal intellectualism in the late 1940's (a starry-eyed girl from Illinois comes to New York to find literature among the Jewish intellectuals—and ends up, for openers, at a dinner party at the Trillings'). And closing the volume is "The Psychopathology of Everyday Life"—the touching, madcap sequel to the first piece: a name-dropper's seriocomic paradise that tells the story of a baby who's raised (her depressed mother "forgets" her there) in the coat room of the Russian Tea Room; brings to life for a lovely minute or two every classic type of artistic, Broadway, or show-biz aspirant you can imagine; that manages to sing the song of what New York once was (and may be still); and that makes you, once or twice, laugh right out loud. Uneven pieces, but, at their best, treasurable, loving, and very, very fine.
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