A whale of energy and ambition and playfulness and dullness and miscellany. A Grimm's fairytale--"The Fisherman's Wife"--inflated to bursting, the exploded pieces mixed in with such considerations as Freud's "What do women want?" and a "history of human nutrition." A football team of book, swarming everywhere. The narrator, so goes the central premise, has lived in every age, with a female at his side to cook for him and thus--with what she provides for his belly--she influences the course of civilization in one small section of Pomerania. As a Stone Age fisherman fishing on the banks of the Vistula, the narrator-Man--stands on the shore and has a flounder jump from the water into his arms; the fish begins to speak. If the fisherman spares him, the flounder will counsel men through the ages on how to break the thralldom they live in (in the Stone Age men are suckled by three-breasted women and kept totally passive). The flounder is spared, advice is regularly dispensed; but the men make a muck of it, turning initiative into aggressiveness, war, and pain. Distraught, the flounder waits until the 1970s, now jumps into a boat full of women's-libbers, and throws himself upon their mercy. They bring him up before a special Women's Tribunal for his crimes. Rabelaisian, political, historical, fantastical, fable-like: Grass lets his book be all of these. The stamina is exhilarating but a little daunting; though Ralph Manheim has done a medallion job of translation, the bulk and density can drown you. To Grass' credit, however, he's thrown himself totally into this novel (as he hasn't done in a while). Ambitious readers can plunge into this Hood-like phantasmagoria of the battle-of-the-sexes; all readers can stand on the shore and admire some of Grass' inventive ripples.