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Less ambitious--and less pretentious--than Burke's Vietnam black-comedy Laughing War (1981), this second novel offers strained variations on a single, mildly funny, not-very-original notion: a Soviet spy who's secretly in love with America and capitalism. The narrator-hero is Dimitri, son of an important Party member (a ruthless survivor); and he grows up in the 1930s--slavering over brassiere ads in a clandestine copy of Life, lusting for the fruits of free enterprise in ""Enemy Number One."" (Some crude comedy in the Porky's manner.) After WW II, then, Dimitri quickly proves himself as an anti-US tactician--just so he and wife Katya (a dumb, glamour-hungry blonde) can go to New York. They love it there, but must keep their decadent yearnings secret: when Katya wins $1000 in a supermarket contest, Dimitri tries to lose it in the stock market--but merely starts building a wildly implausible Wall St. fortune; Katya rages when she can't wear her Bloomingdale's dresses in public. Furthermore, Dimitri's ambivalence--needing to be a good spy, wanting to ""save"" America from the USSR--creates problems in the late 1940s: an idiotic, pro-Soviet US intellectual (a crude caricature) almost stumbles on Stalinist labor-camp horror during a cultural-exchange visit; Dimitri's genuine attempt to alert the US to Soviet spying leads to McCarthyism. (""I had created a monster."") And, through the decades, there are internal wrangles with fellow spies--including a 40-year feud with childhood enemy Lavrenti, now a CIA operative who keeps reappearing to take revenge on Dimitri. Unfortunately, this revenge-subplot (which has a predictable final twist) isn't enough to hold Dimitri's episodic entanglements together. Likewise, a small love-story near the end doesn't manage to add much warmth. And the result is a faintly engaging, overextended series of political mini-farces--more silly than trenchant, too farfetched for credibility. . . but too labored, repetitious, and earthbound for absurdist impact or high-flying entertainment.

Pub Date: March 27th, 1984
ISBN: 1587215144
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin