cover image Book


Robert Grudin. Random House (NY), $19 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41185-7

In this avant-garde comedy, first novelist Grudin ( Time and the Art of Living ) takes up a plot about a nasty tempest in a college English department, but his real preoccupation is with language and the reflexive nature of literary forms; his novel is a burlesque of itself and of all bookishness. When English professor Adam Snell vanishes from the University of Washagon, his stuffy, jealous colleagues judge him in absentia, trashing his writing, chiefly his novel, Sovrana Sostrata. Spite also motivates Snell's would-be murderer, literary theorist Frank Underwood, also known as Libricide. Snell, however, survives. His editor will be his adoring bride, while his lascivious mistress--in time-honored tradition--is his book. The story emerges in an array of subgenres (e.g., memo, epigraph, marginal gloss, college guide). Interlarded passages from the magisterial 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica serve as a straight text that bespeaks an innocent, premodern trust in the permanence of words. Grudin's satire targets book people from poets to publishers to nouvelle critique freaks, and if his work is too much of an in-joke to appeal to every reader, its playful elegance, wit and authority make it a gem of its type. (Aug.)