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Thirty years in the writing, Seide's novel is a dinosaurian collection of syncopated aphorisms, lovely Jewish-American wiseacre dialogue, Joycean babble, and antique-seeming spiritual quest. What story it surrounds is a mere brave flicker: Joe Bellinson, a stock-clerk in a New York garment business, decides to leave his job. All the people Joe knows--his girlfriend Rosalie, his mother and sister, his boss Mr. Colish, his fellow-workers, his cellar-club-mates in Brooklyn--think this is insane, as it is indeed in the drear middle of the Depression. But Joe is the echt optimist, eager to try his hand at the mysteries of uncharted life. And, as such, this novel has a vigorous, rambling, spieling force, rough and ready and metaphysical and proletarian--with shades of Daniel Fuchs' supple range and Henry Green's intimacy-in-groups. But the major event--and problem--here is Seide's prose, which usually is perilously air-whipped and sometimes can sound like Professor Irwin Corey: ""How dim. The heart goes out to one, is withheld from another. The memory may be more tricky than tenacious, yet when the faces of yesteryear are recalled, they still seem to retain a radiance so ruddy and circumfluent."" Dismal punning is fife: ""Give any jerk enough lost chord and he's sure to hang himself from the highest clef."" And the Joycean interior monologues are often lamed by squalls of alliteration, by the predictability of an elevated verbal figuration invariably followed by a slangy one: ""Gloom of no mean violence then ensues as the spoilsports are thunderously hustled out, and sarcastically advised to put fresh elastic in their drawers. . . ."" Still, Seide shows himself to be a genuine master of the baroque comic mode--with, for instance, the hilarious section in which Mrs. Colish describes her most recent hospitalization; the marvels of dialect-style are on grand, truthful display in Mrs. Bellinson's extraordinary long speeches to her children about the past. And though this 676-page attempt to straddle the Jewish/social/modernist traditions is daunting, muddled, and presumptuously over-fancy, it is also spectacular in spots--with a Thirties hunger for the unexplainably human that some readers will find delicious, even irresistible.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1983
Publisher: Fiction Collective--dist. by Flatiron (175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010)