ASTORIA by Robert Viscusi


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 Like most metafictional works, Viscusi's difficult and sometimes rewarding debut spends a good deal of time defining itself: A ``new version of a travel book,'' it's also ``sort of a novel in the form of a poem in the form of three essays about the meaning in history.'' Sort of. The title is a pun on the Astoria section of Queens (where the author's Italian immigrant family settled), as well as on the word's conflicting senses of both ``history'' and ``fiction.'' The dizzying narrative that follows derives its loose structure from dream logic, organizing itself into three sections based on the author's trip to Paris, which, oddly enough, he considers ``the museum'' of his ``own spectatorial childhood.'' The major themes and events that resurface through Viscusi's free associations include his mother's death, his ``double identity'' as an Italian- Americanthroughout here, the conflict between silence (omertÖ) and confession (American-style) emerges as a singularly Italian- American dilemmaand his career as an academic steeped (you might say mired) in the theories of Derrida and Lacan. When he grounds his narrative in the sensual aspects of ethnicity, Viscusi brings life to his otherwise moribund prose. But when he plays with notions of identity, shifting between alternate selves (``I,'' ``he,'' ``you''), things become hopelessly obscure. The austerity and simplicity that the author claims for his Abruzzese ancestors are nowhere in sight. Poet and critic Viscusi (English/Brooklyn College) buries some genuine wit and moments of real insight in a relentlessly self- conscious fiction that makes few gestures toward plain readability.

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1995
ISBN: 0-920717-93-4
Page count: 313pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1995