cover image Seven Lies

Seven Lies

James Lasdun, . . Norton, $23.95 (204pp) ISBN 978-0-393-05754-6

Lasdun's acclaimed first novel, The Horned Man , followed three short story collections and several books of poems. This second full-length outing seductively and stylishly dissects a life of Cold War fabrication told in flashback. Stefan Vogel, a narrator as insinuatingly unreliable as one of Patricia Highsmith's blithe psychopaths, grows up in the grim fantasyland of Brezhnev-era East Germany, the son of parents whose scuttled diplomatic ambitions for a "better life" in the West consume him. A minor dissident, he is sprung, along with wife-to-be Inge, from an East German prison by a West German government intent on making a showpiece of him. Instead, he and Inge emigrate to the U.S. In the picaresque process of realizing his dream of America, his succession of identities and impostures eerily shadow that of the waning Cold War: eager apparatchik, exotic poet, noble dissident—and last year's news. Of course, America turns out to be as ridden with mendacity as his vanished homeland, and after five years in New York City and 15 in self-imposed upstate exile, the labyrinth of lies (the seven of the title come from Martin Luther) begins to close in on his orderly life and marriage. Sly, witty and just allegorical enough to make one reflect on one's own deceptions, Lasdun's latest is a bracing and accomplished entertainment. (Oct.)