cover image THE HORNED MAN


James Lasdun, . . Norton, $24.95 (193pp) ISBN 978-0-393-00336-9

A lonely, eccentric New York academic discovers his office is also home to a deranged squatter in this startling, brilliantly mysterious debut novel by poet and short story writer Lasdun. Alerted by misplaced bookmarks, deleted computer files and a dirty bed sheet under his desk, Brit Lawrence Miller, a professor of gender studies at Arthur Clay College, becomes convinced that a stranger is camping out nightly in his office. Though preoccupied by his wife's recent decampment and his membership on the college's sexual harassment committee, Lawrence fixates on the illustrious Professor Trumilcik, an Eastern European womanizer and ex-board member, who went mad on campus one afternoon and never returned. Could he be the uninvited guest? The shocking news that several area women have been found brutally beaten to death heightens Lawrence's hysteria. Erratic behavior ruins a date with Elaine, the school attorney, and confuses his relationship with his therapist. When a heavy metal pipe falls out of his briefcase, Lawrence has to wonder: could this be the weapon used in the killings? As reality slips and slides, Lawrence, in full paranoia mode, comes to believe that Trumilcik is framing him for the murders. References to the works of Kafka and to mystical pharmacology add depth and insight, though a few key tense moments are squelched by lengthy exposition of the protagonist's compulsivethought processes. Introspective readers with a taste for the bizarre will appreciate Lasdun's eerily elusiveconclusion, but those seeking definitive closure will be left scratching their heads. Rights sold in France, Germany, Holland, Italy and the U.K. (Apr.)

Forecast:Writer's writer Lasdun attracts a cultish crowd, and his first novel should garner prominent review space and critical acclaim. It remains to be seen whether a broader audience will go for his surreal take on the campus novel, but a six-city author tour will give him some exposure, and he's sure to make appearances on the intellectual radio and television interview circuit.