cover image The Barnum Museum: Stories

The Barnum Museum: Stories

Steven Millhauser. Poseidon Press, $18.45 (237pp) ISBN 978-0-671-68640-6

The 10 stories in Millhauser's ( Edwin Mullhouse ) newest collection smartly conform to the dictates of literary fashion. ``A Game of Clue,'' which opens the volume, describes both the people playing the famous board game and the lives of the game's characters (pedantic Professor Plum, seductive Miss Scarlet), ultimately proposing reading as a kind of sleuthing, a piecing together of clues encoded in the author's language. The relationships among reader, writer and the written-about are similarly investigated throughout. Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock becomes a cartoon hero in ``Klassic Komix #1,'' a witty inquiry into artistic appropriation (here, ``Panel 41'' has Alfred saying, ``Holy cow, mermaids . . . ! Guess they're not singing to me, though. . . . ''); Lewis Carroll's heroine is frozen in ``Alice, Falling.'' Elegant facades belie careless housekeeping within these works (each of two characters in ``Clue,'' for example, holds the identical game card). Alone, any of these pieces might seem novel or stimulating, but collectively their concerns, language and imagery become repetitious, oppressively belletristic. First serial to Esquire. (June)