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SEVEN TATTOOS by Peter Trachtenberg

SEVEN TATTOOS

A Memoir in the Flesh

By Peter Trachtenberg

Pub Date: May 14th, 1997
ISBN: 0-517-70172-3
Publisher: Crown

 A tiresome exercise in self-indulgence posing as a literary memoir, from a winner of the Nelson Algren Award for Short Fiction. Trachtenberg (The Casanova Complex: Compulsive Lovers and Their Women, 1988) has seven tattoos. Ranging from angels to a Borneo tribal motif to one of Christ's wounds, each has a story, each triggers a series of associations and speculations. It's not a bad idea for framing the tale of a life. But first you need something interesting to say about your life, and a graceful prose style wouldn't hurt either. Trachtenberg fails on both counts. He grew up in a religious Jewish household, where the Holocaust hung heavy in the air. The boy was bright and creative, but unhappy, rebellious, possessed of vaguely socialist leanings. In a lapse from Jewish law, he got his first tattoo--``the first mistake I've ever made that I can't take back.'' Then there were more tattoos, trips to Borneo and Amsterdam, some time in Baltimore, down and out years on the Lower East Side. He ends up as another messed-up yuppie who thought that drugs and sex might lead to wisdom. When that didn't work out, there were the comforts of therapy, where he could blame his miseries on mom and dad (despite the bile, his account of his mother's death is oddly tender and affecting). Trachtenberg tries to cover up his substantial self-involvement with thin-lipped Buddhist disquisitions on the ultimate nullity of existence: ``I would prefer to simply be extinguished, to silence the muttering of self, the thing that preens and craves and hungers and tells itself stories in order to live.'' Obviously, writing a memoir was the solution. Beyond the tattoos, there's nothing indelible in this package of angst and sophomoric philosophizing.