Sallis, who's won widespread acclaim for his strikingly wayward Lew Griffin detective stories (Black Hornet, 1994, etc.), is also a poet, translator, and literary essayist--and now, the author of this slender, unrevealing portrait of an unnamed fictional artist reflecting on his life and loves and coming death. In place of narrative he offers a collage of flashbacks, poems, confessional letters; meditations on painting and writing, sex and the sea; allusions to Keats, H"lderlin, Rilke, Stevens, Thomas Wolfe; lapidary apothegms (""There are too many people inside me for one of us ever to be lonely""); changes in tense, person, and the punctuation of quotations. The whole project, haunted by insistent metaphors of death (a self-beached fish, the pounding of the surf), recalls Eliot's Gerontion in its crystalline images frozen in cloudy amber. Though far more self-consciously literary than the Lew Griffin stories, this fragmentary prose poem mostly makes you wish for the pedestrian conventions of detective fiction that ballast Sallis's more successful novels--something like the tail that keeps a kite aloft.