SHRINKING by Alan Lelchuk


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Is there a novelist around who whines more purely, more self-consciously, with greater stamina than Alan Lelchuk (American Mischief)? If so, Lelchuk has knocked him or her out of the game with this new, wallowing conniption. Though down on his luck with the critics, 38-year-old Lionel Solomon still has his compensations: a comfortable teaching job in Cambridge, a house in the country, an earth-motherish and non-leaning girlfriend named Sheyna, and the occasional unsolicited letter from an unknown reader. It's one of these fans, a blond slip of a thing named Tippy Matthews, who calls Lionel one day, says she wants him ""to do whatever you want, or fantasize doing, to me,"" gets him to come running, and eventually drives poor lecherous, curious, ego-inflamed Lionel to the nut-house. We read here a massive Dear Doctor letter, addressed to Lionel's shrink--with stops along the way for some S/M histrionics and the Esquire exposÉ that Tippy writes in the mode of a ""radically democratic literary criticism."" Bad Tippy, poor Lionel. Lelchuk's enchantment with Philip Roth's aims and style is by now almost complete (""Why didn't he slap her for her impudence, for her playacting? Or walk away? Leave it?""), but totally absent in the guilt that Roth lets play out into sympathy: here it's all Lionel, his overweening misery, the hard blows life has dealt him. Only childhood memories of his strife-filled relationship with his father come off as authentic; otherwise we get lecture notes, literary gossip, a barking-back at what the author clearly feels was an injury done him. But the pain, though real, comes off as self-pity and self-indulgence, and the sight of heavy artillery--hundreds and hundreds of Lelchuk pages--being brought out to blow apart a teapot finally seems deeply, sadly, silly.

Pub Date: May 18th, 1978
Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown