BATHERS by Robert Steiner


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Steiner writes a pleated, very John-Hawkes-imbued, and free-standing prose; and it alone is the only possible lure here--in a short novella about a brokendown gardener in the tropics, his hot-blooded wife Ponchita, and his young German apprentice Rudy. The very predictable triangle-plot develops, with the narrator-gardener and his hothouse flowers floridly blooming along the way: ""Heavy as a treasure, I fell profoundly to the point of being without rescue. The creamy action of movement on the surface brought a tightening in my throat. Drifting on the floor of our sea, fauna alone around me, I drew a curtain across my vision."" Very Hawkes-like indeed, sensual but a touch pointless, more invested in lurid imagery than sense. Still, there are some effective, striking images: a helicopter crashing into the sea only yards away from the swimming narrator, for example. And also like Hawkes, Steiner (Quill) lavishes attention on physical cruelty; this too is intermittently effective. But the impulse here finally seems mostly to decoration, a kind of vivid prose wallpaper; only, then, for connoisseurs of intense but uninvolving wordsmanship.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1980
Publisher: New Directions