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The recently deceased author of the novels Odditorium and Inner Tube prepared this slim volume of 19 stories before his untimely death at 37. Eschewing traditional narrative, Broun's often weird tales can both vex and satisfy: the accumulated fragments, however brilliant, simply refuse to yield meaning. ""Highspeed Linear Main St.,"" a photographer's account of his latest project on American highways, reveals the nature of Broun's hyper-minimalist aesthetic. This monologue of a compulsive analogist, a man who likes ""to draw parallels,"" explains the ""scraps, chips, slivers"" of art: ""That they can be fixed in a coherent sum is the kind of stance we live on, like entropy or antimatter: pretty fictions that don't explain, furtive agreements of pretense. . ."" Consequently many stories here are told through enigmatic vignettes, and include ""By the Numbers""--scenes from the lives of a lesbian couple who work in the same mall; ""Ruby Dawn, Private Duty Nurse""--incidents in the life of a nurse who cherishes her privacy; and ""Rosella""--six snippets, each dated by the protagonist's age, that span 80 years, and reflect the changing styles of the period. A fabulist in the contemporary mold, Broun often merges fantasy and reality. ""Slow Grounder"" captures the mad rantings of a former baseball player, now on the skids; and ""Development"" follows a man on the road who sees life as a comic strip. Some of the best stories here express an appealing misanthropy, a cry best heard in the title ""Is This Civilization?"" In ""No Smoking,"" an unmarried and childless woman, grumpy on her 37th birthday, calls her brother-in-law, who's also her lover; and ""Cows on the Drag Strip"" is the spiritual autobiography of an insurance salesman disgusted by ""the bogus, the false, [and] the synthetic."" ""South Sea Sensations""--the flawless story of a consummate con-artist, currently hustling a ""boobs and blood"" film--wonderfully invokes both time and place, as do a number of Broun's pieces set in upstate New York. A self-conscious post-mod, Broun puts it best himself--""modus operandi: montage, collage, bricolage."" In short, not for the uninitiated.

Pub Date: May 6th, 1988
Publisher: Knopf