cover image Lucchesi and the Whale - CL

Lucchesi and the Whale - CL

Frank Lentricchia, Frank Lentricchia, Lentricchia. Duke University Press, $34.95 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-8223-2654-0

Few literary critics succeed at fiction, which operates under different rules than argument-driven criticism. But like Lionel Trilling and Edmund Wilson, Lentricchia, a star in the galaxy of cultural theory (After the New Criticism), tries to make the leap anyway. The five parts of this brief novel give us a collage portrait of ""experimental"" novelist Thomas Lucchesi Jr., a writer obsessed with death, his ethnicity and American fiction. By turns satiric and surreal, the novel addresses ethnicity in fantasies about opera and the Mafia. The fourth and fifth sections, in which Lucchesi's ambition is inscribed as a gloss on, respectively, Moby-Dick and Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, are the most successful at marrying Lentricchia's talent for close reading with portraiture. Lucchesi is fascinated with the history of misreading, or not reading, Moby-Dick, starting with the way the hyphen is usually dropped from the book's title. Since Lucchesi is an Italian-American experimental novelist--a man of hyphens--the erasure of this stroke prefigures his own, unsuccessful career (he rightly despairs of a place in literary history, since, typically, he publishes his ""art novels"" at his own expense). In the final analysis, Lentricchia's foray into storytelling seems misguided since it both forecloses on the pursuit of his interesting ideas while being not quite strong enough to create the subtle tie between character and concept that supports the structure of fiction. (Feb.) Forecast: Members of the academy will likely take an interest in this experiment but bookstores far from universities need not stock too many copies.