cover image Tours of the Black Clock

Tours of the Black Clock

Steve Erickson. Simon & Schuster, $18.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-671-64921-0

With the surreal effects of William Burroughs, Erickson spells out a nightmarish vision of the seedy underbelly of the Twentieth Centurya phrase that's portentously capitalized throughout this wildly uneven phantasmagoria. Its anti-hero, Banning Jainlight, raised on a Pennsylvania ranch, has sex with an Indian housemaid who turns out to be his real mother; so he throws his father out of a window and escapes to sleazy New York where he churns out porn novels. His Austrian mentor bids him to Vienna, where he ends up as Hitler's secret pornographer, writing tawdry scenes to slake the Fuhrer's obsession with a real-life niece. Jainlight's first-person spiela torrent of drunken poetry, erotic longing and cynicismis intertwined with the stories of Dania, a Russian dancer living with her half-mad father inside a revolving crater in Sudan, and of Zeno, an old ferryman who shuttles tourists to an anonymous Chinatown. Suddenly it's 1967 and our shy pornographer is holed up with Hitler in a dank Italian prison, plotting escape. Erickson ( Rubicon Beach ) overextends himself here, but before this powerful, haunting fantasy falls apart it insinuates itself into the reader's mind through its reckless confrontation with evil. (Jan.)