A MODERN WAY TO DIE: Small Stories and Microtales by Peter Wortsman

A MODERN WAY TO DIE: Small Stories and Microtales

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A first collection, by a writer best known for his translation of Robert Musil's Posthumous Papers of a Living, Author, that can be read in five-minute snatches: it consists of 70 short-shorts, fragments, prose poems, and ""microtales""--a hit-and-miss affair where minimalism meets the surreal, resulting in equal doses of lyricism and tabloid humor. In the title story, a slight, surreal sketch, death is a spectator sport--in a tale that's a variation on the myth of the Grim Reaper. ""The House of Phantasy"" is a sadomasochistic tale set in the Third Reich; ""Exquisite Scream, According to X"" is about collecting screams, literally; while ""Jonah: A Fish Story"" is an amusing (but also slight) fable about a man who discovers that he has gills instead of lungs. Some of the pieces are quick, deft power fantasies: In ""Little Accidents Will Happen,"" for instance, a man's machine--or ""rejector""--casually amputates body parts or otherwise inflicts physical damage to strangers when its owner is annoyed or offended. Other short-shorts are interesting in their orchestration: ""The Eye of the Beholder"" brings together a young voyeur, an invalid mother, and a Bible saleswoman as Wortsman creates an encounter that reaches a point of logical absurdity. Of the so-called ""microtales,"" some are descriptive prose poems (""Pigeons,"" ""Squirrels,"" ""Still Life""), while other are surreal fragments (""Little Alien From the Planet Venus,"" ""Singing Doors,"" ""Thank You, Marcel Duchamp,"" ""The Birdman""). Wortsman tries to make a virtue out of sparsity--and sometimes succeeds--in stories that (as he says in a foreword) ""appeared in the absence of big things to say.

Pub Date: Jan. 2nd, 1992
Page count: 234pp
Publisher: Fromm