ONLY SHORTER by Ross Feld
Kirkus Star

ONLY SHORTER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Cancer: the subject has generated essays, memoirs, how-to books, and fiction in assorted sentimental/uplift modes. Feld (Years Out), however, is very much in the de-uplift business--and this second novel, though slow to start, soon builds with ironic, daily-grind detail up to its uncomforting point: terminal illness does not necessarily transfigure; the day you die is (in the words of the epigraph from Beckett) ""like any other day, only shorter."" The patients here, then, won't win any popularity contests. Jack Richmond, 27, a ""management analyst"" recently transferred from N.Y.C. to a plant near an upstate college town, is reactionary, a bit of a boor, unprincipled in his part-time moonlighting as a landlord's henchman. Still, the onset of his Hodgkin's Disease arrives with taut power--the mystery of it (Jack first thinks the swelling on his neck is an insect bite); the tests. (""His feet! If they'd told him incisions were to be made in his eyeballs he couldn't have been more shocked or instantly drained of hope."") And meanwhile, in chapters set further ahead in time, we're meeting Jack's hospital friend, museum-curator Judith Kornbluh--who's moving passively, tetchily through the Manhattan of lofts and studios, having suffered a terrifying relapse. Eventually the two time frames will meet, after Jack has had successful radiation/chemotherapy treatment. (Judith gets stuffy Jack the marijuana which helps to minimize nausea side-effects.) But before the dying Judith pays the well--but miserable and petty as ever--Jack a last, nightmarish visit, Feld has turned out a grimly funny parade of small, awful, twitchy moments: while Judith sleeps with an artist-creep she just met, her true-love, dapper failed painter Anthony, is (with agony) selling forgeries to get money to take her to Italy for the latest treatment; Jack makes a sperm-bank deposit, just in case, and quarrels hideously with his family; Judith disastrously joins a group that does physical therapy with a brain-damaged child. And, throughout, the body/mind ravages are captured in the most unromantically vivid of images: dying is ""not being able to go back and get your things."" No solace here, then. But, additionally textured by the Bowery loft-world (with all the death counterpointed by art's im-mortality), this is a rough, uncompromising evocation of the inner world of the terminally or perhaps-terminally ill--made all the more unsettling by the elegance of Feld's plain-poet prose.

Pub Date: June 15th, 1982
Publisher: North Point