cover image Frog


Stephen Dixon. British American Publishing, $17 (769pp) ISBN 978-0-945167-41-9

The author of five well-reviewed but relatively obscure novels and eight story collections, Dixon may achieve a higher profile with this novel, a National Book Award finalist. Opening portentously with the protagonist's trip to Kafka's grave, this 860-page Joycean monolith deftly portrays the urban nightmare as cosmic comedy, though some readers will doubtless be put off by chapter-length paragraphs, free association, time shifts and voice changes. Howard Tetch, angst-ridden college professor, had an old nanny who smeared his face with excrement as a boy; now he has violent outbursts toward his own daughters and fantasizes his wife's death. His Dublin is Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. With a fine sense of the absurd, Dixon tells dozens of stories--how Howard's father, a dentist, went to prison; the tragic decline of Howard's suicidal, invalid sister, Vera; his violent adolescent street life; the apparent death at sea of his newsman brother, Alex. Then Dixon mixes the deck, giving alternative, mutually exclusive versions of some subplots, as if the world were splitting into parallel universes before our eyes. Readers attuned to the author's run-on style may warm to a cunning, sexy, audacious performance; others will find this an arty bore. (Dec.)