REMOTE by David Shields


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 Poised at the intersection of cultural commentary and self-analysis, fiction writer Shields (A Handbook for Drowning, 1992, etc.) creates an idiosyncratic, droll, sporadically ravishing assemblage that both investigates and replicates the fragmented, irony-poisoned, celebrity-obsessed consciousness of fin-de-siäcle America. Shields announces his project in the prologue: ``I'm reading my life as if it were an allegory, an allegory about remoteness, and finding evidence wherever I can.'' In 52 chapters, Shields finds scraps of this ``evidence'' everywhere, from personal letters to quotations from sportscasters, all footnoted with knowingly absurd diligence. He cross-examines his father about a family legend that proves to consist mostly of untruths; he catalogs bumper- sticker slogans, fans' dreams of Kurt Cobain, ad copy for movies, and pop-culture truisms. He examines closely the career of the actor Bob Balaban, whose characters are generally unlikable ciphers; the celebrity of ``Stuttering John'' Melendez, Howard Stern's whipping-boy colleague; and the ways tabloid TV shows analyze fellow inhabitants of the medium like Oprah Winfrey and Twin Peaks. The self-referentially ironic savvy displayed by mass entertainments and their audiences elicit poker-faced awe from Shields, who communicates with crackling elegance the perilous wonder of his own remoteness, whether it's from the expectations of TV producers or his own experience of the present moment: ``I grew up at a very busy intersection, and to me aesthetic bliss was hearing the sound of brakes screeching, then waiting for the sound of the crash.'' Generally the chapters' punch lines involve detached, ironic notice of the author's ironic detachment, and inevitably these clever observations can come off as just the sort of hypersmugness that he targets here. But he avoids obvious cynicism as he shows how easily the clichÇs of a media- mediated age can distort real information into a cartoon. A winning combination of humor and insight--Seinlanguage for highbrows. (57 photos)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-44591-9
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1995


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