A Cuban of our acquaintance describes CortÃ¡zar as ""the best French writer in Spanish."" Not only because he has the candor to set his fiction in Paris, where so many South American writers have found breathing room, but because he has a truly French feel for the miscellaneous, kitchen-sinky, birds-eye texture of dally life. In A Manual for Manuel, you'll meet Andres, Marco, Francine, Lonstein, Lucienne, Patricio, and Susanna: a mixed group of French intellectuals and ""Argentines who don't know what they're doing"" in Paris. Together they make up ""the Screwery,"" a collective that's more ""pataphysical"" than strictly revolutionary--involved in projects as diverse as collecting a scrapbook of newspaper clippings for Manuel (Patricio and Susanna's baby son), guerrilla theatre in department stores, counterfeiting and currency smuggling, and, grandest of all, the kidnapping of a bigwig from a multinational corporation in return for the release of captured revolutionaries in Latin America. CortÃ¡zar's narrative, as we've come to expect, is totally fractured into digressions, essays, undifferentiated dialogue, philosophical meditation, Finnegan's Wake-ish pun-prose, letters, Telexes, etc. Even the book's big, wonderful action scene (this charming crew's disastrous kidnap attempt) is muffled under all the stylistic swaddling. CortÃ¡zar is often at his best here: writing about a large group of friends, making them individual yet coherent--smart people being confused together. But the book suffers by comparison with his earlier, more substantial Hopscotch; even in Rabassa's adept and sympathetic translation, Manuel seems to lack the intensity and rich ambience we look for in prime CortÃ¡zar.