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 Australian newcomer Wilder offers a pocketful of stories that read by and large like apprentice pieces culled, say, mainly from writer-to-be student days. ``Beach Report'' is a word-sprightly satire in the manner of Barthelme, about a TV-jaded society whose members are happy to have their thinking taken over for them by visitors in flying saucers; ``The Vampire's Assistant at the 157 Steps'' (a maker of cheap movies overstays his welcome in a friend's cliff-house) follows in the sometimes revelatory real-is-surreal path; and what may be the best piece in the book (``The West Midland Underground'') creates a pensive collage of self and place and history as its narrator contemplates a legendary rail system. Nods in the direction of science fiction, though, end up as self-limiting exercises, as in ``The Man of Slow Feeling'' (a man finds that his sense-responses are delayed for three hours after any stimulus) and ``See You Later'' (another sees things only from a point 200 years too early in time). ``The Girl Behind the Bar is Reading Jack Kerouac'' is a slight story that eats its own tail, as the reader of a girl's stories gets drawn into a reenactment with her of the sexual events she's predicted-created in them. ``Joe's Absence'' overprepares its way to its jejune and unconvincing point that a young man is more interested in a sneak-peek at a writer-friend's stories than in a chance with the writer-friend's girl; ``Hector and Freddie'' chronicles the sexual confusions of two repressed Oxford students, trying for thematic height and sexual candor but hitting short of the first and generally trivializing the second; and the callow and undergraduate-toned ``Aspects of the Dying Process,'' about sex and unrequited love among the very young, takes itself seriously in a way its people and material simply can't sustain (`` `How do you get your jeans faded like that?' he asked her''). Deeply uneven, wanting more time to age. The title story, by the way, in case you're wondering, is an ironic little one-pager, deliberately flat as a pancake.

Pub Date: July 22nd, 1991
ISBN: 0-393-30785-9
Page count: 150pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1991