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Much-published Norwegian novelist Lfnn's first English-language appearance shows fourth-generation shipping magnate Tom Reber watching his life fall apart (his family business has just gone bankrupt) as if through the wrong end of a telescope. Reber, who survived a concentration camp by applying his dynastic strategy of ""slow advances and sudden retreats,"" sits at a table near his summer home in a little seaside town waiting for the news of the disaster to sink in; but when he's still able to eat at the same table at the same restaurant, get served by the same waiter, and order the same macaroon cake and brandy for his incurious wife Helen, the bankruptcy becomes increasingly remote, as do the new developments in his life. He admires a high-heeled passerby and learns that it's Lene Hagen, the wife of Henry Hagen, a plant employee once known as ""the Prison Guard."" Lene forthrightly takes him to bed. His son Christian takes up with still another summer blond. His son Erling keeps him supplied with documents of the firm's losses. He learns that he once saved Henry's life when his boat capsized, and the two embark on a series of searching, inconclusive dialogues. A reporter interviews him for a television story on the collapse. Henry disappears. But none of this touches Reber, who goes right on wanting to retreat to a hammock and read Elie Wiesel. (When he finally starts, we'll learn how he feels about cutting the pages, but not how or whether he reacts to the words on each page.) These sparse events are all filtered through Reber's mind, which acutely and obsessively observes itself failing to connect with the world. A tour de force recalling Death in Venice, The Fall, and the airless idylls of John Hawkes--though Reber's oxygen-starved sensibility may make readers feel stifled too.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1992
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Marion Boyars--dist. by Rizzoli