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Like its predecessor, Seduction Theory (1995), this energetic collection of 12 related short stories explores various formative events in the life of documentary filmmaker Alex Fader.

Well into adulthood, Alex is still looking (mostly in all the wrong places) for the love snatched away from him in his youth by his German-born father's early death from cancer and his `artistic` mother's inconstant maternal feeling. Thus Alex `sleeps over` at school-friends' homes and later in the lives of his lovers, most of whom, like the much older, divorced Englishwoman in the overattenuated `Seconds of Pleasure,` simply don't connect with his highly internalized existence. Alex is a potentially strong character, and Beller presents his emotional rootlessness most effectively in the opening stories, notably `Falling Water` and `Great Jews in Sports,` which feature dead-on renderings of the ways in which preadolescents process adult realities, keeping a safe, sardonic distance from devotion or commitment while never quite scratching the insistent itch to be accepted and to belong. Beller's tendency toward Salinger-like summary wisecracks (`German was the language of someone being really angry while in their underwear`) sometimes breaks the reader's concentration on Alex's defensive introspection, a problem that increases when the protagonist begins observing and recording his own experiences. Often enough, however, Alex comes through as a beguiling combination of smartass, nerd, and soulfully horny young man. And in the better stories—“Natural Selection,` in which the suicide of a classmate's father awakens Alex’s memories of his own father's death; and the wonderful `Vas is Dat ?` a loving, grieving portrayal of an elderly aunt's senility, which both echoes and prefigures Alex's own solipsism—he becomes even more complex and sentient.

Often accomplished, always interesting work from a writer who seems to be still finding his voice.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-393-04925-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2000


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