Rabih Alameddine, Author, Michael Denneny, Editor Picador USA $21 (208p) ISBN 978-0-312-20041-1
The arresting title of this first collection from the author of the well-received novel Koolaids should not turn away readers who might discover Alameddine's considerable talents. Indeed, the eponymous novella seems purposely confrontational. The unnamed narrator, a gay man obviously dying of AIDS, corresponds with a pedophile named Bill. The dying man pretends to be a 13-year-old boy who has moved to San Francisco from Lebanon, and his letters are deliberately framed to encourage Bill's sexual cravings. The question that the story explicitly raises is the true nature of perversion: the narrator maintains that society at large is more perverted than the people it accuses of sexual transgression. He addresses the reader directly: ""Do you ever think about what made me the way I am? You did."" The remaining seven stories are equally edgy, acerbic and unsparing. Lebanon's proverbial breakdown is the black margin around everyone, whether the characters live in that country or have emigrated elsewhere. ""The Changing Room"" is an elegant, scathing memoir of an upper-class Lebanese boy sent off to an English boarding school in the '70s. While his country is falling into ruin, the boy moves from a war zone ""directly into hell. Nothing prepared me for the cruelty of the English."" The memoirist's vein is further pursued in ""My Grandmother, the Grandmaster,"" in which an expatriated Lebanese writer recalls the role his mother's mother has played in his life, encouraging his intellectual talents that are derided by his rich but boorish father. She is a grande dame from an impeccable family line, but her genius in chess symbolizes the paradox of sexist Lebanon, where the chess association will not grant her recognition. The story displays the manners and mores of a ruling class on the brink of the abyss. These stinging narratives vibrate with an electrical tension that comes partly from Alameddine's penchant for the outrageous, partly from his unflinching view of a society in chaos. (July)
Reviewed on: 06/28/1999
Release date: 07/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
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