cover image The Bookman's Tale

The Bookman's Tale

Berry Fleming. Permanent Press (NY), $22 (160pp) ISBN 978-1-877946-02-8

It's appropriate that in this novel's opening scene, the protagonist is watching images shift in a mirrorlike glass, because the book itself is much like an alluring kaleidoscope. Color, light, point of view mutate continually, luring the reader through a seamless narrative toward a stunning climax. Recently widowed Edward Ray, 58, publisher of a small Southern press, sails on a freighter to a Caribbean island in pursuit of a woman he hasn't seen in almost 30 years. As Ray wonders how his odyssey will end, he listens to various passengers relate, a la Chaucer, their ``Tales,'' some with no apparent ending, but all of them about how people lie to others and themselves. After Ray and the much younger woman he's just met witness a native fertility rite on the island, the two spend the night together. The next day he dips into her unpublished novel and his own Tale takes a jarring bounce. Temptingly enigmatic, this brief novel offers stylish, witty observations, with not a word wasted. Fleming ( Colonel Effingham's Raid ) wrote The Bookman's Tale , originally self-published, at the age of 87, three years before his death in 1989. (Feb.)