The first half of Bell-Villada's wry, erudite collection (billed as a satire on ""the minimalist school of art"") describes the misadventures of Dickie Dickerson, an American growing up in Puerto Rico who goes on to attend universities in America. Dickie's experiences--losing an older friend because Dickie dares to correct him in front of one of his romantic prospects, winning a record in a radio music contest, then finding that it will not fit on his phonograph--are not earth-shattering, but Bell-Villada (Borges and His Fiction) makes them glow with his attention to personal detail. After this patchwork portrait, the latter half of the book is a more engaging mix of fiction and satirical essays. When Bell-Villada pushes his tongue too far into his cheek, his jokes fall flat (a New York Review-style article titled ""Hitler Reconsidered""; a pseudo-Borgesian philological article written on an island whose residents have lost all audible speech). Other pieces are more successful. The poignant title story consists of letters from a youth who emulates Ayn Rand's heroes until (surprise, surprise) his selfishness backfires. What such stories lack in subtlety they make up for in verve and escapist charm. (Jan.) FYI: Bell-Villada's history of aestheticism, Art for Art's Sake and Literary Life, was a finalist for last year's National Book Critics Circle Award.