Van Gogh's Room at Arles: Three Novellas

Stanley Elkin, Author Hyperion Books $22.45 (312p) ISBN 978-1-56282-937-7
All three novellas in Elkin's ( The MacGuffin ) latest collection are occasionally funny, often painful and always beautifully written. As usual with this author's work, the plot is not really the point; his main concern is his protagonists' inner landscapes, conveyed in rich and convoluted monologues. The tales themselves are simple: a wheelchair-bound political geographer, deserted by his wife on the eve of his annual class party, tries to cope in ``Her Sense of Timing''; a commoner formerly engaged to the Crown Prince of England explains the circumstances of her morganatic relationship in `` Town Crier Exclusive, Confessions of a Manque: `How Royals Found me ``Unsuitable'' to Marry Their Larry,' ''; and in the title story, a teacher from Booth Tarkington Community College (BTCC), surrounded by the stars of academe at a foundation in Arles, searches for his intellectual bearings. The characters' musings are peppered with comic asides ranging from the political geographer's attempts to formulate an answering-machine message that will deter burglars to the BTCC professor's bungled French translations (``because Madame Celli had become invisible in the laundry two horses must begin to be''). In Elkin's hands, this trio's probings into (respectively) their physical, social and intellectual constraints are very human inquiries into the ever crotchety workings of fate. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1993
Release date: 03/01/1993
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