SWANNY'S WAYS by Steve Katz

SWANNY'S WAYS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The never-humdrum Katz is up to his old tricks in the last of a threesome (Wier and Pouce, 1984; Florry of Washington Heights, 1987) about life and death in a Manhattan neighborhood. Too bad the surrealism overpowers any palpable story. William Swanson, otherwise known as ""Swanny,"" is a former New York Bullets gang member from Washington Heights who's taking the night-course route to a law degree. Meantime, he's shacking up in tenements with an array of unsuitable women, taking calls from his Jewish mother from her retirement home in Florida, and heading south for his Irish father's funeral. Or is he? It's impossible to tell whether anything Swanny says is true, whether anything he does is really happening. Jackson Ryan, the other narrator, is equally unreliable. This former leader of the Fanwoods, a rival gang, receives and comments on a series of ""manuscripts"" (which compose the book) that Swanny apparently leaves for him outside his office or apartment. Much of the reflection in these writings centers on Swanny's memories of Florry O'Neill, the bright and beautiful girl from the earlier books in this series who was raped and murdered at 15 and with whom both Swanny and Jack were in love. Although Swanny is obsessed with a man he calls Kutzer, his former junior-high gym teacher who, he says, killed Florry, as the manuscripts progress it becomes unclear whether Kutzer is actually evil or whether he even exists. Other elements and themes appear dramatically and then disappear without a trace: Sledge, the black man who was imprisoned unjustly for Florry's murder; interracial cohabitation; Swanny's half-sister Madeline, with whom he has a brief sexual encounter; Jack's wife Clovis's lesbian affair--all are unceremoniously, tantalizingly dropped. Experimental Fiction with a capital F: If Katz (who writes well, plots less successfully) is out to baffle readers utterly, he has succeeded with flair.

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 1996
Page count: 554pp
Publisher: Sun & Moon