A MODERN WAY TO DIE by Peter Wortsman


Small Stories and Microtales
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 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
ISBN: 0-88064-133-9
Page count: 234pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1991