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It's been eight years since Selby's last novel (Requiem for a Dream) and about 20 since Last Exit to Brooklyn; here, in a collection of stories, Selby does some of what he does best--crude, gritty, violent, despairing writing--but more often provides mannered angst and unsteady plotting. ""The Coat"" is vintage Selby--a Bowery bum named Harry (with one exception, all of Selby's protagonists here are named Harry) whose life is one perpetual Lost Weekend clings to his old Army coat, literally singing to it as it keeps him alive through the harsh winter. When he's mugged and nearly killed, he's taken to Bellevue (where he gives his next of kin as ""Ernest and Julio Gallo""); there he recovers, dries out, talks to pyschiatrists, but never stops thinking about the coat. The minute it's returned to him, he buys a bottle, hops a bus, and heads downtown. Next best is ""I'm Being Good,"" in which a schizophrenic in a Massachusetts mental hospital writes lovely, touching letters to a husband who may have deserted her. But many of the stories are weak and contrived. ""Fortune Cookie"" (a salesman refuses to make a move without one) and ""A Penny for Your Thoughts"" (an unhappily married man becomes enamored of a girl he sees on the subway) read like gimmicky Twilight Zone scripts; ""Indian Summer"" is the story of another Harry who smoulders beneath the surface--and throws a handful of mashed potatoes into his little daughter's face when she disturbs him; but the violence is gratuitous, the characters mere cutouts. The title story is about a Harry who moves his family from New York to Connecticut, suffers a nervous breakdown under the financial strain, but finds joy and recovery in an unexpected mid-March snowfall--yet the epiphany is a literary one, unfelt by the reader, unforeshadowed by the author. In sum: with a few exceptions, anemic and a little overwrought.

Pub Date: May 30th, 1986
Publisher: Marion Boyers