THE MEN'S HOUSE by Peter Israel


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Anti-utopian allegories are fast becoming the highbrow equivalent of science fiction. The classic models are Zamyatin's We and Orwell's 1984: the collectivist world of the future where the bewildered individualist wanders in a maze of soul-destroying, bureaucratic machinery. But there is also the apolitical, quasi-religious realm; Kafka's absurdist universe or the threatening anonymity so often found in the fragmented consciousness pieces of Blanchot. Peter Israel handles much of this by now all too familiar material with a lively intelligence, inventive ploys, and eerily wrought atmospheric touches. The hero, Simon, the faceless common man, undergoes a sort of interior pilgrim's progress as he searches for his lost identity in a mysterious, nameless establishment, called by him ""Henhouse,"" which may or may not be Hell, Limbo, or Heaven, or (as it would later seem) simply Society as a philosophical proposition. His benevolent antagonist, a possible alter ego, is the Investigator, one of the Almighty Hens, who seeks through arcane tete-a-tetes, vaguely suggestive of psychoanalysis and brain-washing, to induce in Simon a sense of guilt for unexplained crimes. These parabolic encounters, replete with secondary situations and impressionistic ruminations on the nature of reality and the crisis of the self, culminate in the tribunal scene where Simon, quite unexpectedly and apparently involuntarily, adheres to his ""innocence"" and thus breaks the nightmare spell. Written with a bland, yet tension-creating impersonality, it is a generally impressive fable of humanity struggling between freedom and determinism.

Publisher: Putnam