NEED by Nik Cohn


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 Raffish, neo-Expressionist novel in low-life slang, set in Manhattan but with a strong flow of London guttertalk, a pendant to Cohn's sweet-spirited survey of Broadway castoffs in the nonfiction Heart of the World (1992). Cohn charts the peculiar quests of a diverse group of misfits. Their deepest yearning seems to be for something to believe, a life raft to cling to. It's a pressing need, for most of these figures seem close to drowning--like waterlogged bodies rolling about in the surf. Ferdousine's Zoo, a pet shop, serves as a kind of halfway house for Cohn's four main characters. Ferdousine has hired Kate Root, an overweight ex-target in a knife-throwing act, to keep the shop going while he stays upstairs in bed. Kate has allowed Anna Crow, a belly dancer at Sheherazade's Middle Eastern cafe, to room there as well. Anna also makes money as a deliverer of Verse-O-Grams, a device that allows Cohn to quote much great poetry and leads to the novel's funniest scene--when she must deliver a Restoration poem (and a rope to hang himself with) to a man who calls himself ``Brinsley Sheridan.'' Also on hand is John Joe Maguire, an Irish wanderer far from home, a bumbler whose innocence (stamped by God in a black birthmark on his thigh) frees him from the overwhelming needs and obsessions that drive the others here. The fourth cast member, Willie D, is a dream-ridden pimp who hopes to open a topless carwash but is largely fixated on his collection of outlandish shoes, each pair of which Cohn lovingly describes. These folks drift and hang about the pages in a sea of heliotrope detail; meanwhile, Manhattan slouches toward millennial breakdown, and a group of zealots called the Black Swans gather in darkness five levels below the subway tunnels, awaiting Armageddon. A journey to the end of the CÇline/Beckett night, of most interest to the small but devoted Cohn cult.

Pub Date: Feb. 7th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-42707-4
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1996


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