WOMEN AND MEN by Joseph McElroy
Kirkus Star


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A book of 1204 pages--and not a James Clavell schlockorama, either; a serious book from a very front-line American writer (Plus, Lookout Cartridge) that, to borrow one of its metaphysical/scientific/sociological metaphors, is itself a very ""Wide Load,"" an exploded and then reconstituted portrait of everyday life and (not common in American fiction) quotidian thinking. McElroy, in order to write about essentially everything, has taken a framework not much more original than My Sister Eileen 's: the lives (twined by sexual confusion, urban stress, and political or paranoid complication, granted) of the occupants of one lower Manhattan apartment building. There live (chiefest in McElroy's concern) an aging, divorced journalist named James Mayn as well as, on other floors, a sometimes comical but also admirable-in-her-way sexual guru named Grace Kimball (masturbation clinics and therapeutic orgy-sessions held for pay in her pad) and a wavering opera-diva who's having an affair with a Chilean intelligence man (who in turn--the Mobius strip in McElroy is omnipresent--has his eyes on Mayn). Given these and others, McElroy is pretty much free to go wherever he wants in the most rambling way. There are chapters (some printed earlier as short stories) that are relatively straightforward: biting, Wyndham Lewis-like satires of urban idiocy, and tender snips of sexual pathos; but the restlessness of McElroy's intelligence always leads him back to what he at one point calls ""a mind compounded. . .call it Colloidal Unconscious""--where everything is particulate and straining as if by valence to meet with everything else--and these produce long, perilously prose loopings of reference and memory. . . Finally, though, the daring synthesis of it all doesn't seem as fine-tuned as in a book such as Gaddis' JR; McElroy too often strobes his character's minds (and this is a book more of minds than bodies), blinking them off and on with qualification and rejoinder. It's most accessibly read perhaps as what it incidentally also is: maybe the best Manhattan-mores novel since Washington Square, a brilliant cityscape as confusing and drumming as the place itself. For the intrepid only, obviously--and to be applauded for its unimperial, even shaggy-dog-like surfaces, given its size--but still a very difficult and not completely enlightening climb.

Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 1986
Publisher: Knopf