Britisher Westlake makes his US fiction debut with a tale that's exasperating and brilliant by turns: as 12 masterpieces of art ``tell'' the story of two lovers in Paris who are inadvertently mixed up in a grand forgery. Looking at passerby Joel in the rearview mirror instead of paying attention to her driving, Alyx runs over a number of pet dogs—but no matter, since a new romance is off and running. Alyx, it turns out, is a painter hard at work on ``reoriginations'' of the same 12 paintings that scholar Joel has written about in a book called Articulations. And you could almost say that that's about it for story. There'll be a new baby at the close, and along the way certain adventures with ex-wife Lulu, who earns her absurdist name almost as perfectly as does her immeasurably rich art-collector mother. As for the rest of things, there's the mystery of which talking masterpiece is actually a forgery—the answer coming only after the unexpected inheritance (by Joel) of CÇzanne's Apples and Oranges, the hideous vandalism and then complete disappearance of same, not to mention a footnote or two in New York and near-death on a foot trek across snow-driven Alps. All good high fun, ending with a snaggle of numerology that will please some, enrage others, baffle more. As will the tedious ``talking'' of the paintings—who go on endlessly about which pronouns to use in ``telling your story''—and the horrific excerpts from Joel's book (``Thus the body becomes a bifurcation set, a zone of undecidability between two incommensurate orders, either a flux of biochemical functions or a socially determined semiotic field'')—all vindicated slightly by those who catch a passing allusion to Tristram Shandy, the greatest ``cock-and-bull story'' of them all. Genius mixed with tedium. The former wins over the latter, but finding this out is a rare chore indeed.
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