NOT WORKING by George Szanto


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Attempts to weigh down the murder-mystery form with pretentious language or musing rarely succeed--and this drab effort from Canadian playwright/critic Szanto is no exception to the rule. The mystery content is painfully thin: in Dobie, Wyoming, Hispano-American Frank Alvarez dies in a suspicious car-crash; and retired cop Joe Levy (whose teenage daughter Tessa is the girlfriend of Frank's son Manny) slowly gathers evidence against the obvious culprits . . . while the townsfolk view his effort with disapproval. Filling out Joe's minimal, routine sleuthing, however, is a cascade of dullish, verbose sidetrips: graphic replays of Joe's entire sex-life--from courtship of wife Helly to his current adultery with sultry Maggie; flashbacks through Joe's marriage and career, with emphasis on his disillusioning killing-of-a-youth in the line of duty and his current, ambivalent attempt at being a househusband; local Wyoming history; a disturbing pain in Joe's genitals; etc.--with frequent soul-searching and flabby philosophizing (""The death of Frank Alvarez is one end of a history. Afterwards, new histories start: the time that's lived through to find out why; the time that's reconstructed to find out how. A future that's obligatory for everyone. A past is remade by witnesses in the present and so can be seen more clearly. The future is changed when these witnesses explain the past."") So, despite the more active kidnapping of Tessa in the last section: a listless, interminable hybrid--virtually nonexistent as a mystery, clichÉd and formless as a study of middle-age angst.

Pub Date: Nov. 22nd, 1982
Publisher: St. Martin's