cover image Eclipse Fever

Eclipse Fever

Walter Abish. Alfred A. Knopf, $23 (335pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41867-2

Abish's best-known work, How German Is It (which won the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1980), was hailed for its complex portrait of modern German society--its slick, rational surfaces and aggressively antiseptic architecture built upon a terrain shifting with historical and pyschological doubt. In his first novel since then, Abish applies the same aesthetic to modern Mexico with equally beguiling if less momentous results ( How German Is It ended with a revolutionary, under hypnosis, raising his hand in a Seig Heil! salute). Alejandro is a Mexican literary critic, urbane and sophisticated; his estranged wife Mercedes, a translator, leaves him, ostensibly to teach in the U.S., but Alejandro believes she is actually having an affair with Jurud, a Jewish-American novelist in New York. Alejandro's crisis unfolds against a backdrop of art theft, political chicanery and pernicious intellectual gossip-mongering among the cultural elite of Mexico City. As with most of Abish's work, the dramatic qualities of the plot are mildly diverting, but what fascinates most is its dynamic: the overall narrative structure (representative of History?) is dependent upon individuals solemnly pursuing the satisfaction of their own needs (capitalism?). How this comes to resemble art and story--and how it eclipses the reality of historical forces--is underscored by the purposefully melodramatic ending. (May)