cover image The Male Cross-Dresser Support Group

The Male Cross-Dresser Support Group

Tama Janowitz. Crown Publishing Group (NY), $20 (314pp) ISBN 978-0-517-58698-3

Janowitz ( A Cannibal in Manhattan ) has the New York scene down pat, but her inventiveness, on-target wit and frenzied characters only partially salvage this misdirected tale. The opening chapters, set in Manhattan, are truly propitious, as they introduce self-deprecating narrator Pamela Trowel, who lives in a squalid Upper West Side basement and halfheartedly sells ad space for a hunting magazine. As her last name implies, Pamela is meant to cement Janowitz's innumerable bizarre bricks of character and plot, the strong satirical foundation of an eventually shaky structure. Early in her adventures, our heroine unofficially adopts Abdhulsp ok , a reticent, homeless child of indeterminate age; later, her seeming soul mate, a well-dressed pathological liar, holds up her magazine's offices with a crossbow in the book's finest manic moments. Pamela's circus of a life makes hilarious reading until she and Abdhul jaunt to Maine, toting a severed head--which they have found along the side of the road--in their rental car. What was once a hyperbolic, seamy sitcom of a novel posing serio-comic questions about gender and identity goes irredeemably overboard with half the book remaining. (Sept.)