Mordant debut collection of terse stories (some only a few paragraphs long), featuring a playful use of language in the...

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STORIES IN THE WORST WAY

Mordant debut collection of terse stories (some only a few paragraphs long), featuring a playful use of language in the service of a grim vision of contemporary life. Lutz's protagonists are, typically, obsessive catalogers of life's minutiae, going through the motions at vaguely delineated jobs, baffled by life, between relationships and wondering, as one puts it, ""at what point people become environments for one another to enter."" All of them would agree with the harassed character who stops the narrator of ""When You Got Back"" on a parking lot to complain cryptically that ""there was something unutterably troubling and unfinished about what had happened."" In these tales, of course, the important things have happened long ago, and they happened somewhere offstage. What Lutz offers is the aftermath. In ""Slops,"" a college professor in his ""shadowed, septic thirties,"" suffering from colitis, offers brief descriptions of the ways in which he keeps colleagues and students (""the whole faceless, rostered population of them"") at a distance. Indirectly, something larger, a sense of the haunted, hapless nature of the man, comes through. In ""Recessional,"" the narrator (""a shadow-slopping, chronically how-evering man"") finds himself increasingly unable to utter even the simplest commands, to communicate at all, or to take action, and is reduced to precisely describing even the smallest gestures of those around him, as if to recapture his rapidly evaporating self. The problem is that the language these figures use, the exact, even prissy, descriptive monologues common to the pieces, is at first startling but quickly, across the span of many tales, becomes rather deadening. And the disaffected figures here, who seem at first both deeply alarming and memorable, begin to seem too much alike. There's no doubt that Lutz offers a distinctive, disturbing vision of an anomic world. But a little of this vision goes a very long way.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0979808073

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996