INSTANT KARMA

Mark Swartz, Author . City Lights $11.95 (112p) ISBN 978-0-87286-408-5

A twisted, introverted young man plots to blow up a public library in Chicago in this muddled but intriguing debut, which presents an odd array of specious, creative evidence to link the alleged terrorism of ideas to its physical counterpart. David Edgar Felsenstein is the imaginative but disturbed first-person narrator who lays out his plan and ambitions as a series of diary entries in which he freely quotes from books and subjects that draw his interest, including the story of Guy Fawkes, Buddhist writings, the novels of Thomas Pynchon and an array of popular science and cosmological titles. Felsenstein uses brief quotes and snippets from each source to prove his addled conclusions and bolster his bizarre point of view, and as his thought process becomes increasingly unhinged, he edges closer to blowing up the library to justify his weird perspective. His one relief from the world of ideas is the series of brief interactions he has with a librarian, Eve Jablom, although Felsenstein is far too shy to make a genuine attempt to ask her out. Swartz is a decent writer with a solid grasp of intellectual concepts; with a better-developed plot, this might have been an intriguing character study of an intelligent, idiosyncratic narrator who slips into psychosis. But without a strong narrative line the book degenerates into an erratic, unfocused series of snippets and truncated scenes. (Oct.)

Forecast:This first novel won't appeal to everyone, but blurbs from Frederick Barthelme, Harry Mathews, Ron Rosenbaum and Andrei Codrescu should attract the kind of readers who will appreciate Swartz's approach.

Reviewed on: 10/07/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
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