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Another overwrought meditation from the prolific West (Very Rich Hours of Count Von Stauffenberg; Words for a Deaf Daughter), this one inspired by the legendary Rat Man of Paris. Boulevard bum, holy fool, tourist draw: such is Etienne Poulsifer, known as Rat Man because of his habit of flashing a rat at passers-by. His purpose is not to amuse or annoy, but to stimulate, ""tweaking the race."" The story of Rat Man, as described by West, is that he's a victim of childhood trauma. The Nazis razed his village, killing 642 people, including his parents; now he roams the streets, ""terminally buggered about,"" a middle-aged baby who eventually finds a second mother in Sharli, a high-school teacher, as she finds in him her sought-after burden. They touch a lot, but seldom make love. When Klans Barbie is returned to France, Rat Man decides he was the officer responsible for the atrocity, and gains greater notoriety in his obsessive new mission of ridiculing the imprisoned Boche. When a TV interviewer points out he has the wrong Nazi, he is undaunted, but a bullet from an unidentified assailant, though it only causes flesh wounds, ends his perambulations. The now-pregnant Sharli moves them down to Nice and gives birth to a boy; Rat Man overcomes his jealousy but appears an untrustworthy parent, stealing out at night to float the baby in his favorite fountain. This lackadaisical tour through Rat Man's head fails to make us curious about his evolution from atrocity survivor to sidewalk eccentric, since the connections are obscured by a blizzard of unilluminating detail, finicky descriptions of the ""thousand dismal little pointless enterprises"" that make up most of Rat Man's life and turn the novel into a slow crawl down a blind alley.

Pub Date: Feb. 7th, 1986
ISBN: 0879515023
Publisher: Doubleday