NATURE STUDIES by John Henry Ryskamp


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A grating literary catastrophe that apparently wants to look like a novel but lacks the writerly skill to sustain the illusion of narrative coherence. First-timer Ryskamp's extended, wandering free associations--from modern music to particle physics to Impressionist painting--are sandwiched between two ""stories"": one about a boy who is abducted by an eagle, another about a homeless man's lawsuit against the police. All begins conventionally enough, with a discussion of the eagle, its feeding habits, biological profile, and mating habits. A child is then lifted from the ground by an eagle near Big Star Lake in Michigan, and suddenly Albert Einstein walks in, meditating on relativity. At length. This first section (""The Earthly Tragedy"") comprises 200 pages of seemingly aimless references and unfortunately humorless anecdotes about famous people: Joyce and Eliot appear, as do Nabokov and Dostoevsky, Bartok and Cage, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, Freud and Jung. The effort is doubtless an ambitious one, if not equally coherent, aiming, it seems, at high themes like the disintegration of society, injustice, the collapse of the environment, or all of the above. In ""Listen America!,"" Johnson tells of Sonny Bishop, a homeless man who believes he's been harassed by the Miami police and is suing them for loss of property--among other things. Close to a hundred pages of dense legal language, detailing Sonny's claims and the city's defense, precede the curious (at best) climax. Ryskamp's intelligence and learning are everywhere evident here, and a reader wishes only that he could deploy them (as in references to everything from modern art to physics) less laboriously and more felicitously in the interests of fiction.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1998
Page count: 307pp
Publisher: FC2--dist. by Northwestern