NATURAL SETTINGS by Keith Cohen

NATURAL SETTINGS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Cohen's short fiction has won him a well-deserved little-magazine following--but this skimpy first novel displays only the more eccentric and tangential side of his talent. What little story there is here revolves around a young couple, Tom and Yona, who live year-round on Cape Cod: one winter night, in the midst of a near-blinding snowstorm, Tom discovers two dead bodies out in the snow--corpses whose identities are soon linked to Yona's extramarital affair with Tom's friend John. (Tom has been aware of Yona's infidelity, but he's been under some misapprehensions about the identity of her lover.) This plot, however, which comes in powder-dry pinches, is merely used as spice throughout--because Cohen seems to be far more interested in phenomenology than storytelling: how we see his scenes. (""The blue spot bleeds onto the boundaries of the visual field, which now follows the shoreline back up to where John and Yona are lying. The blue spot slides up and down each of their bodies and, as John stands up and starts taking off his clothes, falls straight down, disappearing, like a patch of lacustrian reeds, from the field of vision."") And the deliberately lurching changes in narrative tone--an essay on pockets, Gertrude-Stein-like paragraphs, a seemingly incongruous yet gory account of a bus accident--finally seem unjustified, though they are genuinely unsettling. Lots of fancy edgework, then, but no firm central material to give grounding to Cohen's serious, promising experimental intentions.

Pub Date: June 15th, 1982
Publisher: Full Court Press (140 Watts St., New York, NY 10013)