David R. Slavitt, Author . Catbird $20 (189p) ISBN 978-0-945774-56-3

As its title indicates, this offering by prolific poet, translator and novelist Slavitt is a metanovel: a "novel about the novel." This genre has become, since the '60s, as convention-driven as the romance novel. There's the obligatory nod toward theory ("novels offer the truth of fiction, while history offers the fiction of truth"); there's the disgruntled, usually academic male narrator, in this case unnamed; there are the grudges against the modern world, and some rusty transgression against "political correctness"; finally, there's the general air of superannuated revolt that presides over the whole endeavor. The story strings together various insults to the narrator's amour-propre suffered at various ceremonial gatherings: a graduation, a wedding, various dinners and a funeral. His ex-wife, Nina, violently dislikes him; his relationship with his girlfriend, Samantha, is rocky. After not speaking to his sister, Alice, for seven years, he finally relents when he learns she has cancer, and they attend the wedding of his son, Malcolm, together. Between vague descriptions of these ceremonies, Slavitt's narrator free-associates: stringing together commonplaces, plays on words and empty theorizing. The phrase "cowardice drives me" prompts the imaginary figure of a chauffeur named Coward; musings on fiction elicit remarks such as "which of us believes in novels anymore?" and "We are, after each passage through Dickens or Trollope or Eliot, just a little stupider than we were before..." The grating whimsicality of these observations is consistent with the amazing egocentricity of the narrative voice. Slavitt's vast vocabulary apparently doesn't contain the word "empathy." With its condescending tone, pallid characterizations and whiny central figure, this bagatelle will not add to the author's reputation. (Feb. 1)

Reviewed on: 11/18/2002
Release date: 02/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
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