I-LAND: MANHATTAN IN MONOLOGUE by Sonia Pilcer (Ballantine Books: $6.95, paper; 224 pp.).
A waiter in the theater district: "Look, it's not like I thought it would be a piece of cake. But I've paid my dues. I got rid of my accent, right? There isn't a trace . . . I do my scenes at Actor's Studio. I work out. I take voice, jazz at Luigi's . . . Do you think Joe Papp will even look at me? . . . Would you like some freshly ground pepper?"
In "I-Land: Manhattan in Monologue," Sonia Pilcer explores the boundary between journalism and fiction, stitching together the conversations of a group of people on a given day, a Saturday, in a particular place, New York City. Joyce's Dublin this isn't, but it's real. Somehow Pilcer manages to portray the frenetic pace and wide-open libidos of an authentic slice of Manhattan life in the age of sexual anxiety.
Each chapter is introduced by the name of the character speaking, the time of day and the location. The scenes shift rapidly from such familiar spots as Central Park, the New York Health and Racquet Club, Columbus Avenue, Cinema Studio, Tower Records, the IRT subway, the Mary Boone Gallery and Bloomingdale's, to various bars and beds throughout the city.
As much as the voices of the various monologuists capture the comic snap and gritty flavor of the city cold, they eventually merge and become difficult to distinguish on a narrative level. No single plot vector unites the characters except perhaps the imminent marriage of Eliot, a lawyer who recently had a torrid one-night stand with a drag queen, and Randee, a designer who is mercilessly conditioning her body so she'll look good cutting the wedding cake. But we never even find out if they get married.
It's like eavesdropping on a group of strangers at a large cocktail party; of course they're all distinct personalities, but you tend to pick up on their similarities. Pilcer, author of the wonderfully ribald and comic novel "Teen Angel," has demonstrated a gift for dialogue in the past, and she has it down pat here, too. "I-Land" entertains without enlightening. But, if you haven't been to New York lately, it's a pretty good night on the town.