WHAT I KNOW SO FAR: Stories by Gordon Lish


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Lish's recent novel, Dear Mr. Capote, registered primarily as an uninvolving literary exercise. This slight collection of stories reinforces that impression: anecdotes of modern-urban ""fear"" (the word is constantly repeated), delivered in a mannered, self-conscious style, marbled with writer-to-reader tics. (""But you're looking at this and thinking these are really truths. You're thinking why make sentences if all they do is fool."") The narrator in the bulk of these sketchy pieces if 40-ish, married, a well-to-do New Yorker; he's afraid of an unseen janitor, a harmless street beggar, his wife, his children, his own anger. (He still feels guilty for the childhood sin of envying another, ""prettier"" little boy--who then died in an accident.) But, while there are kernels of genuine angst here, most of them are either presented as fiat clinical episodes--or transformed into showy, affect-less studies in fact/fiction interplay. (""I do see now that it is only through the miracle of the falsehood of fiction that I can catch up the people I love from the truth and consequences of what they might do."") And the only full-scale item is a dreadfully overextended piece of okay literary shtick: the very Jewish father of J. D. Salinger writes a letter to his ""boychik""--complaining about Salinger's byline (""But a thing like J.D., Jerome, since when is a thing like this a name?""), his New England solitude, his filial non-devotion, and his attitude towards publicity. (""I have said it to you a million times, no business and no pictures is bad enough--but no Merv GrifFin you definitely can't get away with!"") This hard-working, faintly absurdist vaudeville--also available in the Abrahams anthology, above--may entertain book-world followers; Lish's other stories offer only sporadic frissons of recognition or involvement. But, considering his longtime importance as an editorial force, students of recent trends in American fiction may find this a curious showcase of certain esthetic principles.

Pub Date: April 18th, 1984
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston