cover image The End of Tragedy

The End of Tragedy

Rachel Ingalls. Simon & Schuster, $16.45 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-671-66037-6

These four novellas by the highly praised author of Mrs. Caliban and Binstead's Safari are a diverse and arresting display of literary talent in which Ingalls takes ordinary situations and pushes them beyond reality. In ``Friends in the Country,'' a couple named Jim and Lisa spends a bizarre weekend as houseguests of people who serve vile stew that yields up ``a large, rubbery black triangle of cartilage,'' and coffee that ``was like trying to drink a cup of boiling urine.'' Moreover, it appears that the hosts might not even be the people Jim and Lisa meant to visit. The protagonist of ``In the Air'' creates a living doll to satisfy his sexual needs, only to have his wife take Dolly hostage until he builds her an automated lover as well. In ``An Artist's Life,'' the only story without surreal elements, a man devoid of artistic talent nevertheless seeks an artist's life through his close, complicated friendship with another man. The title piece is perhaps the least successful. A second-rate actress, whose one genuine talent lies in her ability to scream, becomes involved with a sociopathic lover who persuades her to marry someone whom he thinks murdered the woman he loved. The connecting theme throughout these tales seems to be the perpetual distance between people doomed to misunderstand one another. Ingall's deft sense of the absurd brings to mind Thomas Berger's The Houseguest , as she sets up situations with characters in odd circumstances acting under strange impulses. (Feb.)