The fertile imagination of fable-fabricator Holst (The Language of Cats, 1971, etc.) appears in all its glory in his latest collection of 64 far-fetched stories and fragments, 18 of which are making their publishing debut. Juggling mind-bending juxtapositions in his eclectic view of the world, Holst often rearranges familiar scenes or institutions into terra incognita, but leaves enough of the old in place to serve as an unsettling reminder of how easily the known becomes strange. Cats and their inscrutable ways are a favorite subject, as Sherlock Holmes and Watson take on human guise at will and use their furry logic (``Adventure of the Giant Rat of Sumatra'') to solve a brutal killing of a fellow feline, while ``The Cat Who Owned an Apartment'' discovers that patience, and a quick pounce, can bring unexpected but richly deserved rewards. New York City and other jungles of the world are used to good effect, with a mound of garbage proving the death of a family that inadvertently threw its life savings out in the trash (``Finders Keepers''); but Africa is no more hospitable to a legendary jazz drummer, who leaves fame behind to search for a tribe of drummers only to find his death when he recalls his past at an inopportune moment (``Tom-Tom''). The most sustained (though incomplete) saga here, ``The Institute for the Foul Ball,'' features a bold new look at baseball, with a visionary young superstar proposing—at a time when club owners are keen to bolster sagging profits—a paradigm shift that would allow a batter only one strike. Whimsical but with a full complement of death and decay: a selection of primordial melodies and fantastic Çtudes played with a master's touch.
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