The Identity Club

Richard Burgin, Author . Ontario Review $24.95 (330p) ISBN 978-0-86538-115-5

A master of elevating perversity, callousness and loneliness to the level of story premise, Burgin offers shorts that read as if Raymond Carver and Edgar Allan Poe shared a body and had to write about it. In "The Spirit of New York," a man "gets through his twenties" by inducing, through a variety of creepy contrivances, the startle response in passersby; in the title piece, a secret club takes on the identities of the famous dead and holds meetings of the minds. Matter-of-fact renderings of drugs, STDs, prostitution, alcohol, guns, money, threats, cruelty, shame, desolate public space (often Philadelphia) and depraved indifference shape some stories; others rely on the inherent alienation of boring or dead-end jobs, as when, in "Miles," a fight between a supervisor and trainee results in illicit sex for the eponymous witness. Burgin's style is similarly (and intentionally) prosaic, but it's also the problem: despite fresh-seeming contortions, the people of these 20 stories end up an indistinct, pathological amalgam. Burgin (Ghost Quartet ), who has written seven novels and edits Boulevard , selects from four previous collections along with new work, and, oddly, includes a CD of his art songs, praised by composer Ned Rorem. (Oct. 17)

Reviewed on: 09/19/2005
Release date: 10/01/2005
Genre: Fiction
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