ELEVEN KARENS

Peter Lefcourt, Author . Simon & Schuster $24 (240p) ISBN 978-0-684-87034-2

Freud, who considered repetitive behavior the key to both human sexuality and the "death instinct," would have a field day with the narrator of Lefcourt's novel. This unnamed stand-in for the author ("Mr. L—") ponders the uncanny number of Karens in his love life and weaves around them a traditional tale of the writer's apprenticeship. Mr. L is a New York City baby boomer who participates in many of the rites of that generation, from frantic draft avoidance and ownership of the inevitable VW bug to "impersonal... pre-AIDS sex." Among his Karens are a nudist anthropologist; a Togo businesswoman he meets while serving in the Peace Corps; a blind, suicidal poet; and a Scrabble enthusiast who showers on stage at a strip joint. Freud would wisely note that each of these romances begins in slightly zany circumstances and ends in disappointment, the common destiny of the fetishist. Mr. L begins as a wannabe writer of great American novels, resorts to grinding out porno potboilers and winds up as a Hollywood screenwriter. In one sense, the multitudinous Karens are his muses, but they stand more for transience than transcendence: "I think about my Karens, scattered to the winds and connected only by my imperfect memory. I wonder what books they would write if they chose to, and what memories they have of our time together." While few things are less amusing than a middle-aged man waxing maudlin about his past cocksmanship, Lefcourt's characteristically quirky novel (Di and I, etc.) is a graceful coda to the broken promise of sexual happiness. Agent, Esther Newberg, ICM. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 11/04/2002
Release date: 12/01/2002
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