Extravaganza

Gordon Lish, Author Putnam Publishing Group $18.95 (190p) ISBN 978-0-399-13417-3
Lish's daunting reputation as an editor and role as mentor to a number of young writers has sometimes eclipsed his own fiction. This new novel (his third) deserves attention in its own right. Wholly original in concept and often brilliant in execution, Extravaganza lives up to its title: it is likely to rouse passions and start more than a few arguments. The protagonists are a fictionalized version of the old vaudeville team Smith & Dale, and the novel unfolds in quick blackout sketches. Most are familiar, Yiddish theater-inflected burlesque routines of the ``A man goes to a doctor'' type, some of them off-color, and many funny. But early on, the jokes begin to go wrong. Their participants spew anti-Semitic invective instead of (or in addition to) gag-lines. Other stories erupt into horrifying violence. Mother Goose characters turn up as menaces, there are oblique references to Kristallnacht and the unending, crowded train ride of one of the jokes takes on sinister meaning. Through it all, Smith & Dale smile gamely, unable to stop spinning yarns as they watch their society move closer to holocaust. Out of the most unlikely source material, Lish has wrought a devastating allegory and a brutal analysis of the role of ``sick jokes'' in a world that eagerly provides punchlines. Quarrels with many aspects of this short, experimental work are legitimate, but there's no mistaking its power. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/27/1989
Release date: 03/01/1989
Paperback - 158 pages - 978-1-56858-097-5
Paperback - 190 pages - 978-1-877727-05-4
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