THE STAR CAFE by Mary Caponegro


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Readers whose taste runs to the esoteric and ""difficult"" fictions of Guy Davenport or Steven Millhauser will luxuriate in this stylistically splendid first collection of four stories--work that introduces a contemporary fabulist of wide range whose haunting voices often unsettle and amaze. Philosophically playful and unquestionably erotic, these allusive tales--a few of which have appeared in small magazines--are at their most enigmatic in ""Tales from the Next Village,"" a series of bizarre Eastern parables about enlightenment and transcendence through nature and sex. They include bits about a man who follows fish into the sea; a woman allergic to her husband's sperm; another who ties herself to a yew tree; another man whose vision is distorted by gluttony; a maiden who finally accepts a marriage proposal after ten years; and a man who is arrested for acting subservient to his wife. Caponegro's erotic imagery develops fully in the title piece, a surreal account of a ""definitive sexual experience""--anonymous ecstatic sex between a lonely woman who wanders into a cafe and a man who may be the owner, but who may also exist only in her perceptions. Arrested sexuality figures in ""Materia Prime,"" a disturbing story about a precocious gift, fascinated by natural science at age 11. Her ""irreconcilable alienation"" from family and friends inspires her transformation--Ovidlike--into birds, worms, and fire. All this--and anorexia too--rather than complete this transition to puberty, with its dreaded menses. ""Sebastian,"" a novella, is something of an intellectual shaggy-dog story, with the title character, a fussy Englishman, quickly leaving the realm of the mundane for the cosmic--all while waiting for the cleaners to open so that he can retrieve his trousers for a business trip. For all its kinky sex and intimations of violence, this is bloodless fiction that some might find too abstract--although Caponegro's linguistic exuberance and narrative mastery ought to generate a devout following among others.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1990
ISBN: 0743235290
Publisher: Scribners'