A Slight Lapse

Robert Chibka, Author W. W. Norton & Company $19.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-393-02774-7
Although this literary debut offers a raft of bizarre characters set adrift in New York, its real star is language--the story itself is a very weak excuse for virtuosic, ultimately maddening displays of linguistic prowess. The picaresque narrative is set in motion by Laurence Paprika, who ventures to Manhattan to confirm the story of his birth (he remained attached, by umbilicus, to his mother for some time), but his self-discovery seems almost beside the point after the exhaustingly antic prose which drowns the novel. Chibka is fond of wordplay, punning, homophones, alliteration and the sound of every word: thus he offers readers every single move of a game of solitaire (``One two jack. One two five. Red five on the black six . . . .''), a page-long rendering of ``This Little Piggy''--in German--and a list of 45 shades of make-up. Beyond that, he has a major character speak only in phonic Yiddish-English; those looking for the sentence ``I will tell you one thing I wouldn't worry about'' will find instead ``Eyeful tally oo fawn tink eye foot tint foury'' (translation not included). While some of the disquisitions are entertaining, others are as impenetrable as jungle brush. Comparisons to the rougher passages of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are inevitable, but A Slight Lapse is an endurance contest with far fewer rewards. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/30/1990
Release date: 02/01/1990
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