WIER AND POUCE by Steve Katz


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Katz, a veteran of experimental fiction (The Exagggerations of Peter Prince, 1968), was seen at his witty, sharp-edged best in many of the recent Stolen Stories (p. 369). Here, in a long, increasingly obscure novel, those sharp edges become sadly dull and fuzzy--under the double weight of pretentiousness and sentimentality. The likable opening chapter is absolutely straightforward coming-of-age nostalgia, early-1950s/Inwood (N.Y.)-style: chubby teenager Dusty Wier helps the N.Y. Bullets and Social Athletic Club (largely Jewish, brainy) beat the tough, scary Condors in a sandlot ball game-- with an illegal, painful, but ""perfect"" bunt. (""The ball had glanced off the bat, bashed his eye, and rolled neatly to the right side of the infield. . . ."") Next, after a brief semi-experimental summary of Dusty's ""College Days"" (word/sentence games arranged around the letters WIER & POUCE), there's another agreeable slice of conventional fiction: Dusty, now married and a father of two, moves to small-town Italy with his family--and has amusing, dark-edged culture-clashes with a pushy landlady, a midwife, and a swinish American missionary. Then, however, the story of how Dusty's marriage broke up is conveyed--more or less, mostly less--through a giddy spray of ""alphabetical fiction"" à la Walter Abish. And the rest (the bulk) of the novel, presumably reflecting Dusty's alienation through the Sixties and Seventies, is a dated, murky sequence of creepy/whimsical stories-within-stories, reminiscent of everyone from Don DeLillo and Robert Coover to Kurt Vonnegut and John Irving: Dusty meets a spacey California couple named Penis and Vagina; in N.Y. he learns about Italy, South American bats, and the apocalyptic visions of John Doe; in Cape Breton he hears about Indians, ghosts, and the fate of the earth (""You know this has to be a new planet. And it has to be everyone. And it has to start in the USA""); and throughout, amid the mixed imagery of Vietnam-and-baseball and other clichÉs, Dusty repeatedly encounters a symbolic college chum named E. Pouce--who starts out as a handsome playboy, winds up as a gruesomely faceless sadist, and represents capitalism. . . or evil. . . or something. Fans of Katz's more vivid, bracing fictions will persevere, perhaps, but be disappointed. Other, non-avant-garde readers will wish he had continued in the comic, rueful vein of those old-fashioned, engaging opening chapters.

Pub Date: Nov. 26th, 1984
Publisher: Sun & Moon (4330 Hartwick Rd., College Park, MD 20740)