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Fiction

February 09, 1986|ALLEN BOYER

SMILES ON WASHINGTON SQUARE by Raymond Federman (Thunder's Mouth: $13.95). "Smiles on Washington Square is the story of a couple who meet in Greenwich Village (although perhaps they do not meet) and pursue a love affair which ultimately ends (assuming, however, that it ever began). The book is more of a teasing exercise than a novel--long on intellect, but short on flesh and bone. Most of the story follows Moinous, a young French immigrant. Moinous served in the U.S. Army in order to gain citizenship. Discharged at the end of the Korean War, he finds himself alone, unemployed and homeless in New York City. The one thing that enlivens his gloom is a smile thrown his way by a woman at an anti-McCarthy rally in Washington Square. The woman is Sucette, a blond Bostonian who is studying creative writing at Columbia. Their meeting is only an exchange of glances across a crowd.

But "in spite of its rather problematic beginning," Raymond Federman writes, "the love story of Moinous & Sucette will have to unfold, one way or the other." Moinous builds elaborate fantasies about the blonde who smiled at him. Sucette, while writing a short story, works in a new character, a young foreign-looking man whom she decides to call Moinous. Two weeks later, they meet again and fall in love. Or they may not.

Federman treats all events as possibilities rather than facts. He is a French-born critic who teaches at SUNY Buffalo. "Smiles on Washington Square" is his fifth novel in English. The book could be called subdued or spare, but precious would be a better term. Instead of sensation, passion, or plot, it offers a suggestion that life and art are necessarily related, competitive and tentative--and this idea is hardly new. "Smiles on Washington Square," ultimately, is just another academic novel.

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