cover image 253


Geoff Ryman, Geoff Rymam. St. Martin's Griffin, $14.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-312-18295-3

Since a fully occupied London subway car would have 253 seated passengers (including the driver), Ryman's diverting experimental fiction contains 253 character sketches of 253 words each. Taking place on a Bakerloo-line train heading south toward the Elephant and Castle station, this interconnected series of vignettes fills a seven and a half minute journey with amazing richness. Ryman, whose novel Was deconstructed The Wizard of Oz, displays a Chekhovian touch with mundane reality, coincidences both absurd and poignant and life's inexhaustible surprises. Among the cast of Londoners, tourists, exiles, immigrants and other passengers is Margaret Thatcher (not that one); an ice-cream manufacturer self-styled ""Bertie Jeeves""; a mass murderer's former co-worker and a near-victim of his; Henri Matisse's heir; somebody named Geoff Ryman on his day off; a band of actor-buskers called ""Mind the Gap""; and a pigeon. 253 was originally a hypertext posted on the Web, but it makes the transition to print without losing fascinating structural appeal (readers will have to provide the links between the characters for themselves). In case this scenario seems unsuspenseful, it's only fair to reveal that the driver has fallen asleep at the wheel and that the mysterious last passenger provides a miraculous coda. In this low-tech paper-based format, 253 makes for ideal commuter reading and possibly the best subway ride readers will take. (Sept.) FYI: For those who would like to visit the original 253, its Web address is