""Get thee to a nunnery!"" Hamlet advises Ophelia. ""Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?"" Sex and sin are much on Slavitt's (The Cliff) mind as he retells two of Shakespeare's plays--Measure for Measure and Romeo and Juliet--to explore timeless patterns of attraction and deceit. The two novella-length pieces, ""Luke's Book"" and ""Lorenzo's Book,"" not only use Shakespeare's plots, but also employ Machiavellian storytelling that subverts the original story with a new twist. ""Luke's Book"" transplants the Renaissance Vienna-set problem play to a town in the American West named Hotdog, a place that offers just the minimal services: a bath, a drink, a decent meal, supplies and a whorehouse. Luke (Lucio in the original) narrates a twisted plot involving the nun Isabel, who is told that she can save her brother's life if she consents to sex with a town official who has mounted a campaign to outlaw extramarital affairs. In ""Lorenzo's Book,"" Friar Laurence of the original becomes a Medici-like schemer; Romeo is a boor and a dolt; Juliet an unformed child whose hold on the male mind is a mystery; Rosaline a political schemer and illegitimate daughter of the Friar; her Prince a wimp and the Friar himself true neither to the church nor to the women he claims to love. Employing contemporary vernacular, this pair of devilishly clever ""divertimentos"" ponders, with Lorenzo, the age-old problem and paradox: ""How is the double man to be true to himself?"" in a text that doubles as intellectual exercise. (Apr.) FYI: The author is a classics scholar whose translations include Aeschylus, Seneca, Virgil and the Psalms of David.
Reviewed on: 03/29/1999 Release date: 04/01/1999 Genre: Fiction