cover image The Visiting Professor: A Novel of Chaos

The Visiting Professor: A Novel of Chaos

Robert Littell. Random House (NY), $21 (226pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43048-3

Forsaking his customary thriller territory, Littell ( The Revolutionist ) here finds fertile new ground in the farther reaches of mathematics, which prove a wellspring of rich and consistently surprising comedy. When Lemuel Falk, a Russian ``theoretical chaoticist on the lam from terrestrial chaos,'' arrives to take up his visiting fellowship at Backwater University, he is immediately confronted by a blizzard of Americana: is it absolute confusion or, as Lemuel suspects, merely ``fool's randomness''--the facade of disorder behind which lurks a pure meaning? Many turn to him for the answer: a dope-smoking Orthodox rabbi seeking ``the chaos at the heart of the heart of the Torah,'' a libidinous female barber named Occasional Rain, and a multinational throng of spooks and spies all seeking to use Lemuel's mathematical genius for their encryption programs. A not-quite-innocent abroad fleeing Stalinist ghosts, the professor quests across the spiraling chaos of the American landscape, becoming in succession or in combination a lover, theologian, political protestor, media celebrity, homicide investigator and, finally, a refugee in the deceptively tranquil aisles of the local E-Z Mart. Littell's fast-paced satire is by turns bawdy, cerebral and touching. (Mar.)