The latest from Tuten, one of the gray eminences of the American avant-garde (The Green Hour, 2002, etc.), is a collection of enigmatic and interconnected stories about love, death, myth and memory.
Most of these meditative fictions feature two principal characters, a first-person narrator—sometimes a painter or an art critic, always exquisitely sensitive, worldly, prone to allude to myth, literature, music and the visual arts—and a woman who’s a sort of shape-shifting Eternal Beloved. Over and again, in exotic places and in circumstances often tinged with dream-logic or Borgesian whimsy, they meet and spar and touch and (often) part. In “Self Portrait with Circus,” a lovelorn ringmaster vies with the strongman for the heart of his wire-walking love (and is consoled in his heartache by the wise, dignified elephants); in “The Park Near Marienbad,” a lonely art critic, still grieving his long-dead wife, eavesdrops on a young couple’s cafe repartee and tries to write himself into their story, and thus back into his own. “Self Portrait with Icebergs” ends with a schooner “like a burning fruit encased in ice” steaming down Avenue B toward the Narrows and then the open sea, bound for Antarctica; “Self Portrait with Cheese” is a surrealist fever dream; in “The Park on Fire,” a man leaves his wife reading in a hotel and embarks on a stroll in the park that becomes a trip through an inferno, the tour led this time not by Virgil but by Federico García Lorca.
Some readers will find these stories repetitive and aridly arty. But the dialogue is witty and erudite, the style lapidary, and there are moments of elegiac lyricism to rival Tuten’s great Tintin in the New World (1993).