THE WASTIES by Frederick Reuss


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The elegant, sometimes amusing, but claustrophobic tale of an English prof who gets the “wasties,” an illness that sounds, more than anything, like a grim, plain, crippling stroke.

Whatever the cause, Michael Taylor has been reduced to infantilism, diminished into a creature petulant, helpless, incontinent, and mute—though with a muteness pertaining only to spoken words, not for an instant precluding the sufferer’s writing the present stylish, allusive, professorial novel (“the reader/writer in me somehow got uncoupled, . . . write though I am able”). Readers will need to suspend their disbelief that a man so ruined outwardly could retain such elegance of thought (and expression) inwardly as Taylor (self-dubbed, also, Caruso, since he can sometimes still sing) hangs out in Central Park with his lovely Nicaraguan nurse Theresa—until he bites her, though even then he’s forgiven—imagines meetings with the likes of Walt Whitman and John Muir (who snatches his wallet), gradually senses the growing enormity of the distance between his pregnant lawyer wife Gina and himself (he’s also impotent)—and, finally, is dispatched to a rather upscale (it has a wonderful view) Hudson Valley institution for assisted living. What does it all mean? Taylor isn’t beyond theorizing—on the difference between sleep and wakefulness, for example (“between an intuitive impression of what encloses you and an empirically oriented ontology of existence”)—but by and large the wasties seem merely incurable, less so meaningful, and Reuss (Henry of Atlantic City, 1999, etc.), consequently, burdens his reader with a dreariness of situation that continues—and continues. Even Taylor succumbs to filler (“Which was fictional and timeless? Which was temporal and real? I could not have said. Nobody can”), and, try as one might, only the briefest flickers of feeling now and then stir the heart.

The largely academic riffs and worryings of a man humiliated by a dread inertia—but who still talk, talk, talks.

Pub Date: Aug. 21st, 2002
ISBN: 0-375-42071-1
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2002


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