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 A disappointing first novel that traces a young man's gradual breakdown following his mother's death: The author's deadpan prose keeps the action at such a distance from the reader that it's difficult to develop any feeling--much less sympathy- -for the protagonist. Emmet, a photographer's assistant, lives with his dog in a dilapidated house in New York. An insomniac and recluse, he subsists on raw carrots and soda water and spends his free hours roaming through the forgotten neighborhoods of the city, obsessively searching for violations of the municipal code (which he has memorized). By the time we learn the real reason behind Emmet's collapse (i.e., witnessing his mother's suicide), he has entered a mental institution, where he makes common cause with Louise, self-destructive and even more disturbed than himself. They escape together, but Louise's instability puts her (seemingly) beyond Emmet's reach and gives an ambiguous tone to the story's end. There are flashbacks and recollections throughout--of Emmet's childhood, his grandfather's death at sea, his mother's widowhood and discontent--but these unfold a lament rather than a mystery, a chronicle whose outline is apparent at the onset and receives shading, though not shape, as the narrative progresses. When Emmet, at the end of the story, assumes the burden of caring for Louise, we are meant to see in this the start of his recovery, but--given the extent of Louise's psychoses--it could just as easily be read as another of his delusions. The author's implication that Emmet has regained his balance is not borne out in his description of Emmet's thoughts and actions, and this weakens what is obviously intended as a hopeful ending. A good story badly told: the narrator is aloof and seemingly too afraid of Emmet's madness to enter very deeply into his world. Unconvincing.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-670-83591-9
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1991