THE HUMAN COUNTRY: New and Collected Stories

Harry Mathews, Author . Dalkey Archive $14.50 (186p) ISBN 978-1-56478-321-9

Acclaimed poet, novelist and essayist Mathews's idiosyncratic short fictions make up a literary labyrinth that takes readers off the beaten path. Mathews, the only American member of Oulipo, a French avant-garde literary movement that included Italo Calvino, Raymond Queneau, Georges Perec and Jacques Roubaud, takes advantage of the freedom of the short form to completely abandon such conventions as plot and linear narrative. When he does pick a theme or a concept, he often produces works of startling beauty, particularly in "Their Words, for You," an extended series revolving around a man's interlude with his lover. A wicked sense of humor informs "Broadcast," about a man who hears a radio program that reveals how everything in life can be contained in a single sock, only to have his ruminations about finding and preserving the broadcast reveal his status as a mental patient. The collection is divided into three sections, starting with Mathews's early works (which should be of special interest to fans), then moving on to a series of "stories to be read aloud." The book concludes with "Calibrations of Latitude," which features a strange, historically based story of the murky journey of Sir Joseph Pernican. Despite a few instances of reach exceeding grasp, Mathews's narrative voice remains intriguingly personal and audacious throughout, and readers who love innovative short fiction will find themselves challenged by the author's conceits and his offbeat conceptual approach. (Sept. 25)

Forecast: This collection and a volume of collected essays to be published in 2003 may prompt an overview or two in literary journals.

Reviewed on: 08/19/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
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