STORIES IN AN ALMOST CLASSICAL MODE by Harold Brodkey

STORIES IN AN ALMOST CLASSICAL MODE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This big hook is not The Big Book--Brodkey's long-awaited work that's supposed to ordain him into Prousthood. Rather, these 600 pages include most of the stories Brodkey has published since his First Love and Other Sorrows (1958), and all the contents of his fine press edition of 1985, Women and Angels. Brodkey's stories from the 60's, all of which first appeared in The New Yorker, display a mature talent, working in fairly conventional forms. Their subject-matter--a Jew among Gentiles, the relations of children to parents, adult love affairs, an artist as a young man--suggest some of the themes that will obsess the later Brodkey, but they do not invite the same autobiographical speculation. The remaining 400 or so pages focus on, and are mostly told by, Wiley Silenowicz, who also appears under other names, including ""Harold Brodkey."" ""Innocence"" and ""Play,"" two shorter pieces, are both tedious, ironically titled meditations--one describing a marathon bout of sex, and the other the narrator's first erection and ejaculation. ""Puberty"" picks up this obsession with bodily change, and includes not only the exact size of the narrator's member, but a description of his first group masturbation at Boy Scout camp. The other stories here form a self-consciously Proustian, confessional account of Wiley's biological parents--an orthodox mother and her shady character of a husband--and Wiley's adoptive family, which includes the domineering, emotionally exhausting Leila (or ""Lila"" in another piece) and his cruel and envious sister, whose viciousness is detailed in ""The Pain Continuum."" Only S.L. (also called Charley), Wiley's doting new father, provides some moments of genuine affection (""His Son, in His Arms, in Light, Aloft"") and humor--the eponymously titled ""S.L."" records much of his slangy wit. Language more or less defines the various figures in Wiley's endless kvetch--stories that, taken together, form a depressing chronicle of midwestern middle-class Jewish life, especially as perceived by a sensitive, self-absorbed prodigy. Brodkey closes this otherwise disappointing volume with ""Angel,"" a virtuoso narrative about an angelic visitation during Wiley's years at Harvard. Hardly our Proust, Brodkey lacks both the social and aesthetic sweep of the master. A literary event, poorly staged.

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1988
ISBN: 0679724311
Publisher: Knopf