Combine the modernist wisdom of a Walter Abish or a Don DeLillo with the street savvy of Richard Price and you might come up with something close to Cullen's fractured genius. This loopy collection of sinewy prose introduces a slang-slinging satirist with a barroom sensibility and a top-shelf wit. Cullen tries on just about every size and shape of fiction in these 28 pieces, and almost all of them fit. One of the best, ""Trying to Grow Up American,"" asks the question, ""What do he be?"" And Cullen's American runs through his possible careers in virtuoso prose that parodies everything from Joyce and Poe to the blather of sportsmen and entertainers, with some hilarious doggerel thrown in as well (The Stranger in a nutshell: ""Of late, we've had a sunny spell/And mother died, but what the hell. . . That Arab that I ventilated/Caused me to be investigated"". . .). The inspired monologists here include: the tasteful burglar of ""I Break into Houses""; the retarded man brutalized by his housemother in ""Letter to the Institution""; the down-home black man whose vending-machine business is a literal bust in ""The Baddest, Baddest Days""; the bartender with big ideas (e.g., entropy) in ""Better Bars and Gardens""; and the worrywart teacher who tries to kill himself in a microwave oven in ""Worrying."" Cullen struts his stuff in ""Gorbachev's Wife,"" a sartorial assessment of heads of state, narrated in jive; and in ""Bridgework,"" an exercise in perspective that offers four ways of looking at a root canal: the dentist's, his wife's, his hygienist's, and his patient's. Both the gentle pricks and the deep punctures of Cullen's pointed humor manage to sting. No mealy-mouthed modernist, he speaks in clear and simple tongues--no mean achievement.