Like many another tour de force, Handke's new novel -- his second in English -- is a terrific pain in the neck for the audience -- the butt of the joke. The reader is stuck inside the disjointed observations of a narrator who, though he dreams of being a virile American Gatsby, nonetheless submits passively to his experiences and makes no attempt to interpret their enigmas -- precisely the dilemma of the hero of the European novel he happens to be reading. Yet the donnee for a conventionally plotted suspense thriller -- the short letter -- appears on the first page. The presumptive plot deals with an Austrian playwright (Handke?) who is either pursuing or being pursued by an estranged wife with a suggestion of murderous intent on both parts. The chase begins in Providence, moves to New York, Philadelphia. The playwright picks up an old girl friend and her daughter, a child with an existential neurosis that complements the narrator's, with whom he drives to St. Louis; thence, on to Tucson and Oregon where a confrontation recalling the classic Mount Rushmore scene from North by Northwest occurs on a dizzying height over the Pacific, but is -- predictably -- dramatically aborted by the hyper-conscious narrator's self-realization: ""By God, she takes me seriously."" What might have been the background -- a magnificent cultural landscape of America -- has all the while been in the (somewhat blurry) focus and Handke finds the liberating source of life and wisdom literally in John Ford's Southern Californian backyard. An exhausting journey through the mind and matter of the completely modern man.