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Six stories, previously published in England, that are by turns slight, derivative, threatened by the effete, and, at least once-however densely rendered--quite brilliant. ""Obscurity"" is the small, O. Henry-like tale of a faded provincial librarian who, it turns out, once long ago saved the life of Sigmund Freud. In ""Bagley's Progress,"" equally slight, a man is haunted throughout life by his nickname, having it finally turned upon him even by his oh-so-exotic homosexual lover in Rome. ""Destroying Angel,"" though skillfully composed, remains an only vaguely believable story of an incorrigible teenage daughter who becomes sexually irresistible, and thus deadly, to her mother's rather unappealing lover. ""Little Goethe,"" full of intelligence and yet laboring for its substance, tells of a child prodigy, born in turn-of-the-century Vienna, who for some reason never matures physically, but must be passed endlessly from one set of soon-to-be-disillusioned adoptive parents to another; and ""Nada,"" though less Kafka-esque, takes up an equivalent exotica in a Spanish-born character whose genitals prohibit him-her from being known clearly as either female or male. In ""Crusoe,"" however, the intelligence and skill suggested in the other stories is put to its finest use, and the symbolism becomes less strained-for in this high intellectual satire of a post-modern man (not shipwrecked but airplane-wrecked on an island) who, like one of Beckett's clowns, teeters on the dividing line between madness and sanity in the most orderly, precise, and outrageously deadpan of ways. There is talent galore in these pieces, and a rife prolixity of ambition, but there remains, on balance, more in the art than in the substance.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 1985
Publisher: Chatto & Windus--dist. by Merrimack