In his first novel about the persuasive powers of film, Lucas (editor-in-chief of Video Watchdog) puts poetic bite into seemingly banal material about one man's sexual fetish: the exposed female throat. Lucas ponders rather heavily at one point on the way the throat connects base animal instincts with the loftier reaches of the mind—serious stuff considering that his first-person narrator is a staid advertising executive first seen taking his lunch break at the old Eros theater in Friendship, Ohio. Here, the cinematic offerings are such fare as ``Sperms of Endearment'' and ``Dirtysomething.'' The author dismisses these low-budget movies as ``Mad magazine for brain-dead grownups.'' Then, flickering across the screen, comes the obscure ``Throat Sprockets,'' isolating women's necks as erogenous zones, showing tiny holes ``leaking thin, gleaming rivulets of blood'' as advertised in the poster. Yet the participants never shed their clothes. The arty voyeur is hooked on subtlety. In short order, he tries a neck embrace on his academic wife, Paige, who eventually divorces him for his audacity. ``You didn't go after my boobs once tonight—you imposter!'' she accuses him. Our boy then begins his lonely quest for a willing new partner who shares his obsession. He encounters Emma, who makes ceramics shaped like necks and becomes a kind of alter ego: ``A stranger cuts through your life as a kindred shadow,'' muses Lucas about the new relationship. But this novel is about romantic virtual reality and the impact of films on the inner life. Lucas's characters are in the service of an aesthetic conceit that veers between Dracula and Fellini-like visions of wretched excess. It's not long before Emma is not only allowing Lucas to sip her neck's blood but is offering him her pulsating heart as well. Wittily perverse, with often mesmerizing language, this is a virtuoso performance that is, well, draining.
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