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Fiction

June 01, 1986|James Kaufmann

BEASTS by Harold Jaffe (Curbstone: $17.50, hardcover; $9, paperback). The 10 stories--fables, really--in Harold Jaffe's "Beasts" are socio-political allegories of a relentlessly topical sort. They drift sometimes into the fantastic, and they are stylistically prone to collage and other special effects. "Sidewinder," for example, focuses on the Israeli bombing of Lebanon, but employs a line from a Mahler song as a leitmotif; "Brother Lamb" inspects the sorry world of teen-age prostitution and drug addiction, and ends with almost dizzying violence. "Sheep" portrays a serial murderer in a strangely hip, flippant voice: "It's a real, real American, and it's state-of-the-art. Absolutely now. I'll give you a hint--it's one of the following: Environmental Cancer, The Information Explosion, Lifestyle, The Serial Murderer."

At his best, in a story like "Monkey," which skewers the pretensions of a particular type of middle-class professional, or "Mussel," which traffics in terrorism and the Third World, Jaffe has an irreverent ironic touch.

Other stories are less successful. "John Crow," with its endless subheadings and overall jumpiness, suffers from stylistic excess; the political conscience of "Persian Lamb" is simply too heavy to bear the story's weight. In general, Jaffe rides his (leftist) agenda too hard; his politics put forth too stridently. Too many stories are top-heavy with message, as a result of which the felicities of prose suffer.

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