THE WHORE OF TJAMPUAN by Harry Kondoleon

THE WHORE OF TJAMPUAN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The wanderings of three young, alienated, sort-of-privileged drop-outs--in a digressive, episodic narrative that's often coolly amusing in its matter-of-fact way with weird behavior and domestic nightmares. As the novel begins, narrator Frank Klingensmith arrives, on a whim, in Bali--where he meets spacily glamorous Cheryl Burden and her half-brother Paul Nobody, who share a villa nicknamed ""the Bovary."" Then, in six crisp chapters, we get these exotic siblings' background stories. Cheryl spends her childhood with a flakily cosmopolitan, divorced mother--till Mom shacks up with Cheryl's teen-age boyfriend. Understandably miffed, Cheryl seeks out her estranged father in New York, a hedonistic sort who has fathered a child by his beautiful Puerto Rican housekeeper: Paul ""Nobody,"" well-cared-for but clearly branded in his own mind as inferior. So Cheryl and Paul form a natural team for mini-adventures around Nantucket, Europe, and Manhattan; Cheryl adopts promiscuity as a comforting life-style. (""The whole point was not to get stuck on any feature which would individualize the experience but rather to ride the sensation of sex itself."") And Paul, a sometime prostitute, tags along when Cheryl takes off for Bali, with a ""first stop in Turkey for opium."" Frank's history, which the next six chapters deliver, is grubbier and funnier. His ""far-gone"" parents, Isaiah (""Icy"") and Lois, are perpetual invalids, hooked on cigarettes and junk-food, sporadically employed, sponging off assorted relatives. Their selfishness--and the exuberant cruelty of Frank's classmates at private school--eventually dry up the boy's Pollyanna-ish impulses: ""I decided to throw in the garbage pail my love of loves and make of myself a person who could not be disappointed in this world."" A college dropout, he works at an art gallery called the Held Needle, resists seduction by his bald boss, drifts off to Bali, meets Cheryl and loses his virginity--but is flatly rebuffed when he offers her an ""unlimited supply"" of devotion. So, shaken by this (and by Paul's businesslike suicide), Frank returns to N.Y.C. cool, cynical, promiscuous: ""Sex was just a means of getting love and if love was a hallucination what difference would it make in which way you mocked it?"" In its soulful musings on love, sex, and disillusionment, this short novel is hackneyed and repetitious. And at times the evocation of spaced-out, au courant alienation recalls the weakest pages of Bret Easton Ellis, Jay McInerny, et al. But Kondoleon (an off Broadway playwright) is frequently inspired in his lean comic detailing, achieving--especially in the portrait of Icy and Lois--a distinctive tone: part wry absurdity a la Peter De Vries, part funky minimalism, part theater-of-cruelty.

Pub Date: May 31st, 1988
Publisher: PAJ--Dist. by Farrar, Straus & Giroux