Vassily Aksyonov's bop riff is not the only jazz solo in contemporary Russian fiction: Bitov too is a great improviser, and, like Aksyonov, quite funny (if not so worldly). The Ardis edition of Bitov's stories, Life in Windy Weather (1986), evidenced a writer (sometimes an over-writer) of unexpected angles, slants, self-comedy; and here, in an autobiographical novel with strong metafictional underpinnings, Bitov sieves himself through the mesh of classic Russian writing--Pushkin, Turgenev, Lermontov--to see whether he can create a character who stands apart from all literary precedent. The answer--though a joyful one--is no. Bitov's Lyova Odoevtsev has faced in his childhood the revelation that his professor father has quite carefully denied his professor father's intellectual achievements (which, having been accomplished in the Stalinist era, were rewarded in the Gulag); and then, as he grows up and graduates from school, Lyova enters a society that he finds identical at every step to the one Pushkin, Lermontov, Dostoyevsky--all the greats--saw clearly decades before. Russian literature in Bitov turns inside out, like a glove, still retaining the forms of daily life, but it makes of itself a menacing and cautionary ghost for all that. Readers in English by now used to (or weary of) authorial asides, interrupted technical ponderings, and much referential material may find all these ploys effectively resuscitated by Bitov's effervescent verbal panache and self-lampooning. A fine book by perhaps the most interesting still. Soviet Russian prose writer to come our way in translation.