Reading Tlooth is like studying a language game underwater. ""I lifted the receiver and heard a veiled voice ask, 'Is this Luther one six six oh?' 'No, Melancthon one eight eight six.' (It was really a Loyola number; these were passwords.)"" No doubt prank-fiction is a fashionable proliferating genre: Pale Fire, The Octopus Papers, The Crying of Lot 49; and no doubt there will be many profound interpretations offered of Harry Mathews' Kook's Tour of the absurdist landscape. Certainly to turn modern literature's archetypal figure, the wounded male, into a lady dental technician who suffers from an infected ear and other maladies, and then bounce her about through a geographical pastiche, including Europe and the Near East as well as suitably mystifying imaginary terrains, all in the hope of symbolizing, or mocking, our unwieldy concern with the breakdown of personality, the ills of contemporary history, and so forth-- well, that takes a courage of sorts. Mathews affects a classic restraint, low-keyed, dead-pan gymnastics, black humor in the guise of updated 18th century prose. Perhaps the heroine is meant to represent a hip Pamela, perhaps her adventures are a picaresque spoof. The possibilities are limitless, but Mathews' talent, alas, is not. Nothing every really sparkles in this drearily subtle first book published by Paris Review Editions.