NOWHERE by Thomas Berger


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At his searing/hilarious best, Berger filters social satire through the somewhat warped sensibility of a hero-victim--Carl Rinehart in four novels, Earl Keese in Neighbors--while the wild farce never goes over the edge into silliness or fantasy. This time, however, in a slight nightmare-fable, Berger sends N.Y. shamus Russel' Wren (Who Is Teddy Villanova?) off on a trip to a make-believe kingdom--where the topsy-turvy, Utopian satire comes across with a flat, uncharacteristically heavy hand. Wren, smalltime sleuth and would-be playwright, is sleepily at work in his apartment when a phoned bomb-threat--from the ""Sebastiani Liberation Front""--sends him fleeing from the building. . . just in time to escape detonation. Soon, only a few pages later, narrator Wren finds himself arriving in the European mini-nation of Saint Sebastian--sent there on an impromptu fact-finding mission by ""the Firm."" (Should the US be backing benevolent despot Prince Sebastian or the Liberation forces?) But Saint Sebastian turns out to be so bizarre that Wren merely wanders from vignette to vignette in gawking bewilderment: the Prince is a gross glutton and (like the male population generally) a pederast; the country has an apartheid policy that discriminates against blonds; politics and journalism are illegal; instead of money, everyone has unlimited credit; the national library contains nothing except a subjective Encyclopaedia Sebastiana that is constantly, haphazardly revised; schools and churches have been replaced by ali-day screenings of 1940s American B-movies; a foul writers' colony features a poetry critic who praises only unwritten poetry; the government offices include the Ministry of Clams and other Monty Python-ish touches. (""ALL PERSONS ARE HEREBY WARNED THAT ANY VISITOR MAY BE ASSAULTED AT ANY TIME AT THE WHIM OF THE MINISTERS, WHO ARE NOTHING IF NOT WILLFUL."") And eventually the befuddled secret-agent is held hostage by both the Liberation Front and the Secret Police (the SSSSS)--while a USSR agent masterminds a bloodless coup, ""the Firm"" turns out to be a commercial private-enterprise. . . and escaping hero Wren wakes up to find (no surprise) that it was Only a Dream. There's some inventive fun in Saint Sebastian's upside-down whimsies, in some of the sharper socio-literary barbs. (Too many of the one-liners are merely rude or scatalogical.) But, unlike Wren's first outing in Teddy Villanova (1977), this fantasy doesn't even attempt to score as a full-fledged genre parody--while the uneven satire makes it clear that Berger in Wonderland is a lot less wonderful than Berger in the more-or-less real world.

Pub Date: May 10th, 1985
ISBN: 0385294646
Publisher: Delacorte