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While Dyer may feel he is swimming in custard, his descriptions of his days afloat in foreign landscapes are a compression...

In a neat bit of legerdemain, a British literary critic and novelist concocts an existential memoir from a fabric of sideways glances and moments out of time.

There are times, many times, when Dyer (Paris Trance, 1999, etc.) approaches “a kind of parable, one without any lesson or moral, a parable from which it would be impossible to learn anything or draw any conclusions,” when you have to hold it obliquely and read it askance, finding its importance in the marginalia, all that glitters on the verge. And you have to be quick about it, because he keeps on the move: Detroit to Cambodia, New Orleans to Paris, Amsterdam, and Rome. He is adrift, distracted, agitated: “As soon as I had sat down, I would think, I'll stand up, and then, as soon as I had stood up, I would want to sit down.” In counterpoint to Frank O’Hara, he would work along the lines of “ ‘I did not do this and I did not do that,’ but predictably, I did not do this.” He just wanted to get in the car and drive, but “the only place I really wanted to go was Rome, and I was there already.” But for all the who’s-on-first rigmarole, the plaints of loss and decline, grousing about “the roller-coaster emotions of travel, its surges of exaltation, its troughs of despondency,” Dyer is remarkably active and observant, his attentiveness aided more than once by helpings of mushrooms or marijuana. For all his professed loneliness, he spends plenty of time with women and friends, in amusement and openness, whether it be trying to calm a date who gets royally spooked by the power of his “skunk,” or the clarity enjoyed in Amsterdam when he “unblocked all sorts of café chakras and was experiencing a sense of absolute calm”—or watching Burning Man, engulfed in flames, buckle at the knee, as if “to step free of the fire that defined and claimed him.”

While Dyer may feel he is swimming in custard, his descriptions of his days afloat in foreign landscapes are a compression of jolts that will stir his audience, elementally and disturbingly.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-42214-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2002

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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