A trio of stubbornly relentless fictions on sex and death and infidelity and sex and death and infidelity. Also: sex, death and infidelity.
Experimentalist Steiner (Negative Space, 2010, etc.) clearly intends this book to function as a triptych on romantic abandonment. The opener, Into the Green Ocean Deep, tracks a woman at death’s door who’s pursuing one last gasp of sexual abandon with her lover. The prose is marked by its gynecological and scatological candor and a repetitive style that might tire Gertrude Stein. (“[S]he isn’t only dying, she’s at the end of dying, and then she’s dead and there isn’t any more dying to do…”—and so on.) Inviolate follows the musings of a woman whose husband lies comatose after a fall from a balcony; what she mainly ponders is the nature of consciousness and her affairs but more repetitively than with depth. The closing Negative Space is a man’s account of his wife’s confession of an affair after 20 years of marriage. This last story benefits from the intimacy of a first-person narrator and a sense of detail (a beloved coat, cigarettes, Parisian streets) that makes its pseudo-philosophical intonations feel less wooly. Steiner knows what he’s doing, and he’s in firm command of his style, but his assurance doesn’t make these stories any less tedious and distancing; the namelessness of the couples don’t signify universality so much as a faraway ghostliness. The book is orthographically punishing as well: Paragraph breaks are rare, making every page feel like a gray-prose tombstone. If Steiner means to explore the fragile nature of our lives, let alone the flickers of love we get to enjoy within them, he’s done it with a dispiriting lack of humor and empathy.
Pretentious, cold and exhausting.