cover image The Young Man

The Young Man

Botho Strauss. Northwestern University Press, $24.95 (274pp) ISBN 978-0-8101-1338-1

Leon Pracht, a young German intellectual working as an apprentice theater director, is not only alienated from modern society but is also experiencing a trial separation from reality. Strauss's own background as a theater director and playwright charges the opening section of backstage drama with sharp characterizations, particularly of the resident pair of prima donnas, Pat and Maggie, who are performing in Genet's The Maids. In another expert touch, the novel's final section sees Leon visiting his old mentor, who, despite gaining national fame as a comedian, has become a Howard Hughes-like recluse. Leon's adventures as a protagonist, however, merely bookend a bulky series of fables, phantasmagoria and allegories. Some include unsettling surreal touches, such as a department store selling voices, a homunculus whose face is half-Hitler and half-Baudelaire and a seductress who imprisons her lovers in her memory's landscape. Most of these tales-within-a-tale, however, are heavier-than-air fantasies that tend to revolve around the usual postmodern problems of alienated intellectuals, cultural collisions and consumer dystopias. Ultimately, this is less a novel of ideas, or even of characters, than a series of grandiloquent speeches and freakish dream sequences. (Nov.)