Guided Tours of Hell: Novellas

Francine Prose, Author Metropolitan Books $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8050-4861-2
The ego is a slippery thing. Suppress it and it sneaks in through the back door all the stronger. In the two deftly written novellas included in this volume, Prose (Hunters and Gatherers) creates funny, brilliantly authentic examples of this resilient truth. In the title piece, Landau, a mediocre New York playwright attending a conference on Kafka in Prague, tours a Nazi death camp. Aware that there is ""something by definition obscene about guided tours of hell--except, of course, if you're Dante,'' he nonetheless spends his time consumed with self-conscious envy of a fellow writer at the conference, Jiri Krakauer, a big, handsome, charismatic Auschwitz survivor. Landau obsesses about Jiri, ""Mr. Zest-For-Life,'' as he struggles to manufacture a feeling or a reflection that might be appropriate to a death camp that has become a theme park. Jiri reminds Landau that under all of Landau's layers of intellectualization and overdramatization, he pines for a life that has meaning. In ""Three Pigs in Five Days,'' Nina, a young writer, holes up in a dumpy Paris hotel room, unable to face the city without Leo, her editor and lover. ""Although they've been lovers for months, he apparently wasn't someone she knew well enough to ask'' why he has sent her there alone, Nina realizes. Venturing out at last, Nina understands that she has sacrificed herself and her own dreams to his self-protective version of reality. These small, wonderfully well-observed tales bubble with the energy of real adventure and discovery. Prose has done what only the best writers can do: she shows us something new about the subtle peek-a-boo game we play with reality. Author tour; rights: Georges Borchardt. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
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