cover image Falling Up the Stairs

Falling Up the Stairs

James Lileks. Dutton Books, $19.95 (310pp) ISBN 978-0-525-24655-8

The hero of this engagingly funny first novel is Jonathan Simpson, a small-time reporter in northern Minnesota who's approaching his 30th birthday with a growing sense of crisis: his girlfriend has left him and he's just inherited a hideous gothic mansion (complete with senile butler) that he can't afford to maintain. Worst of all, he loses his job as the local society columnist when he inadvertently libels an entire townful of elderly Scandinavian housewives. Hoping to start anew as a restaurant critic, instead he becomes the focus of the Alimentary Instruction League, a group of terrorists who protest the use of chemical additives in food by random poisonings, and who decide to use Simpson as their channel to the public. While juggling affairs with an old flame and a young reporter who's trying to scoop him, Simpson attempts to cover the story without becoming a part of it. Lileks, a reporter in St. Paul, is a skillful comic storyteller, but he strains for effect with bizarre plot contrivances and sentences on the order of ``His pants wore a crease sharp enough to make the air bleed.'' Despite those frequent excesses, this is a sprightly, fresh debut. (September)