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PINBALL by Jerzy Kosinski

PINBALL

By Jerzy Kosinski

Pub Date: March 1st, 1982
ISBN: 0802134823
Publisher: Bantam

Like Passion Play (1979), this enervating novel suggests that Kosinski has reached a creative dead end: recycling his familiar themes and situations, but without the stylish starkness or the sense of danger in his genuinely disturbing early work. And this time there are two alter-egos to embody Kosinski's artistic and sexual preoccupations instead of the usual one--both of them composers. Patrick Domostroy is a serious, once-famous music man suffering from "composer's block"; so now he plays for singers at "a pinball joint that tries to pass for a nightclub" in the Bronx--and, conforming to Kosinski cliche, he rejoices "at being able to follow his own ethical code of moral responsibility." (I.e., sex clubs like Plato's Retreat are okay.) But Domostroy's zonked-out life will change when sexy music-student/groupie Andrea moves in and persuades him to aid her in her obsessive quest: she yearns to uncover the real identity of "Goddard," the biggest recording star in rock history, whose face and name are a super-secret. Their plan? To send Goddard an incredibly smart, simpatico fan letter (and, later, nude pix of Andrea's torso) that will compel Goddard to track Andrea down. And, as it happens, Goddard reacts exactly as they hope and has little trouble tracking Andrea down because: a) Goddard, unbeknownst to the whole world, is really mild-mannered Jimmy Osten--the son of a respected classical-music-records executive (thus a Domostroy acquaintance); and b) Osten's black-pianist girlfriend Donna happens to be in Andrea's class at Juilliard. Soon, then, while the wearying coincidences pile up, the two couples cross paths, switching sexual partners (piano-bench copulation for Donna and Domostroy). And there's some final carnage when Andrea's secret motive for wanting to unmask Goddard is revealed. Still, as implausibly contrived as this feeble plot may be, it's the best thing about the novel, generating at least a speck of suspense and irony. Far worse are the lazy, pretentious textures which fill out the story: flashbacks through the characters' predictably kinky sex lives; Osten's and Domostroy's banal soul-searchings (lots of "innermost feelings," "innermost vortex of his psyche," and "true emotional destiny"); extraneous anecdotes (including a barely fictionalized retelling of the Jack Henry Abbott affair); self-indulgent material about record executives Goddard Lieberson and Boris Pregel, to whose memory the novel is dedicated; and the musical detailing, which, though hard-working, is stiffly unevocative. In short: Kosinski's weakest work yet, with some merchandisable sleaze and glitter here and there, but essentially as dreary as it is empty.