THE PLAY by Stephen Dixon


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Here, as in his other five collections (Time to Go, Movies, etc.), Dixon improvises on a situation (almost always involving an urban male trapped in a Kafkaesque world of black-humor or violence) rather than develop it. At best, such riffs read like the prose equivalent of a jazz ensemble; too often, however, they are merely gimmicky or repetitive. The most satisfying of the 17 stories here are the longer ones. ""Moving On,"" the best, is an inventive take on an unemployed man who loses his wife and his apartment, only to get involved with an ""extremely rich and generous lunatic"" who keeps giving him money, sometimes counterfeit and sometimes real: Everyman meets The Millionaire, with appropriately absurd results. The title story, concerning an insufferable playwright, is a tour de force about the process of composing, full of scraps of conversation, chance meetings, descriptions of plays he has written or might write, and lovemaking with his wife. In it we also learn why Dixon can be so facile: ""Just about the only thing important now in his plays is to say things in a way they've never been said but not to really say anything."" Of the shorter stories, ""The News"" is a convincing daydream of a reverse Walter Mitty, a man who imagines himself not a hero but a mass murderer; and ""The Rescuer"" starkly captures the deterioration into madness of a man who fails to save a small child failing to its death; several of the others, however--such as ""Scratch Scratch,"" ""The Second Part,"" and ""The Book Review""--are slight metafictions that in fact don't really say anything. Others (e.g., ""The Clean-Up Man"") are clever doodles--what the narrator in ""The Bridge"" calls ""window-shade thoughts""--but not much more. More sugared grist for the mills of Dixon fans, three or four solid stories for everyone else.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Coffee House