Once best known for activities outside the realm of fiction--as an NPR commentator and editor of the literary journal Exquisite Corpse--Codrescu has also achieved moderate renown as a surrealist poet. The 1995 publication of Blood Countess brought him into the ranks of acclaimed novelists, which may explain why Black Sparrow has chosen to issue a collection of his apprentice fiction written more than 20 years ago. These experimental tales (four novellas and seven very short stories) explore in one way or another what it means to be an American. For Codrescu, a Romanian immigrant, this question is fraught with the weight and absurdity of popular culture, and the freewheeling associations of the '70s make their presence felt. The narrator of the hallucinatory ""Perfume"" watches children counting in a playground and imagines them counting all the way to infinity, ""if the hamburgers they eat don't get there first."" That tone--cheeky and challenging--surfaces throughout and imbues the uneven collection with a flashy, playful wit. Along with his madcap sense of the absurd, Codrescu also demonstrates a firm grasp of French literature. The opening novella brings Paul Val ry's Monsieur Teste to America, while another (Codrescu tells us in the introduction) is intended to echo Flaubert. But the strongest French influence here is that of the nouveau roman, which abandons structure in favor of abstract ideas and an intent to shock. That aesthetic--the belief that lack of control somehow makes art more legitimate--gives some of these stories the momentum and exhilaration of a runaway train. Other stories simply become mired in the frantic purgings of an unfiltered id. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999 Release date: 03/01/1999 Genre: Fiction
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