cover image Death of the Body

Death of the Body

C. K. Stead, Author HarperCollins Publishers $11 (0p) ISBN 978-0-00-271217-0

This clever novel contains two layered narratives. Harry Butler, a philosophy professor in Auckland, New Zealand, is cheating on his wife with one of his graduate students; Claire, his wife, has just converted to Sufism. At the same time, a drug squad has taken up residence in Harry's house in order to photograph his neighbors, who are suspected dealers. Members of the Philosophy Department Women's Collective persecute him for both his grammar and his affairs with students; and his flimsy excuse for not leaving his wife is that his sons need him at home to provide stability. But the person recounting these events intrudes progressively on the narrative. He carries a blue folder, apparently containing Butler's story, from London to Milan. In Milan he writes in a cafe, where he meets Uta Haverstrom, wife of the Danish consul, who assists him in his task by asking probing questions about the characters. However, Stead ( Sister Hollywood ) redeems his slightly worn material by having Haverstrom comment on its cliches (``Why were the two radical feminists both short. . . . And why both in overalls with short-cropped hair?'') and attempt to draw parallels between the narrator and his protagonist. (Oct.)