Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Article excerpt

Seven Types of Ambiguity, by Elliot Perlman (Riverhead; $27.95). Cheekily swiping the title of William Empson's seminal work of literary criticism, this second novel by Perlman, an Australian writer, presents seven first-person narrators--whose lives are all nudged off course by a man's abduction of his ex-girlfriend's young son--in a compulsively readable tangle. At the center is a psychiatrist who treats several of the characters, and whose narrative provides some basis for assessing the partial perspectives of the six others. The abductor's self-justifying rants about truth, literature, and poststructuralist theory win over his shrink and, it seems, everyone else. Still, if the individual stories of these characters are compelling, their attempts at Empsonian hermeneutics are less so.

The Story of My Baldness, by Marek van der Jagt, translated from the Dutch by Dr. Todd Armstrong (Other Press; $22). This whimsical novel, written pseudonymously by a Dutch novelist, masquerades as the confessions of an Austrian philosophy student whose great accomplishment is a gloss of a gloss of Hegel's Phenomenology. Marek is an observer surrounded by actors, among them his drama-prone dead mother, notable for her string of lovers and her interest in handguns, and a professor studying the dreams of criminals, who ministers to Marek before giving up the pursuit of truth in order to sleep late. Next to them, Marek feels, understandably, insubstantial and unrealized. He decides to assert his existence by pursuing l'amour fou. Several romantic failures ensue, until he finds an older woman, an aficionado of the accordion and of vodka, who is responsible for the loss of his hair. "But what's a little baldness," Marek asks, "when one has known happiness?"

Wedgwood, by Brian Dolan (Viking; $24.95). Before his death, in 1795, Josiah Wedgwood managed to get his pottery into the hands of the Queen of England, the Empress of Russia, and the Emperor of China; two centuries later, he is still cited as a model tycoon by no less an authority than Donald Trump. …

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