This anthology of recent experimental fiction selected by past and present editors of the Iowa Review is a mixed bag containing many a chuckle, an occasional yawn, and perhaps half a dozen true revelations. Experimental prose, William Gass reminds us in a helpful and entertaining foreword, is often motivated by a ``profound desire to be anywhere else, anywhere that hasn't Aunt Em, anywhere not over that sentimental rainbow.'' This desire makes itself strongly felt in a number of these ventures, whether through the tongue-in-cheek humor of Ronald Sukenick's erotica—whose every obscene act is easily conveyed even though half the story's words have been omitted; the wry fantasy of Laura Gerrity's story of a woman who can transform her lovers into circus animals; or the joyful and sly celebration of leisure time that informs John Barth's day in the life of a vacationing married couple. Sometimes, it's the characters themselves who long for escape—most notably the silent, bespectacled boy who must bear his athlete father's vain attempts at playing paterfamilias in a monologue by David Foster Wallace. Elsewhere, the literary intent appears less escapist than explosive—whether the tinder is words (Raymond Federman and George Chambers's surreal fable hidden within the prosaic conversation of a pair of bums) or assumptions of human decency (Cris Mazza's account of a woman's repeated rape by two colleagues). A few entries fall flat—notably Kathy Acker's bewildering account of the origin of prostitution and the end of the world, Susan Daitch's epistolary tale of a woman who believes, inexplicably, that a ghost inhabits her house, and Ben Marcus's murky evocation of a world in which sun and grass are the enemy of mankind. Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of the collection is invigorating and should bring recognition to some lesser-known writers whose originality deserves applause.
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