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The Love-Death of a Typesetter : LOVING ROGER by Tim Parks (Grove Press: $15.95; 160 pp.)

January 24, 1988|Michael J. Carroll | Carroll is a writer and critic who lives in Santa Fe, N.M. and

"Roger lay on my new blue rug in the corner by the television and the lamp that seemed like it always had the funny orange bubbles rising in it that he hated. But I went to work just as usual."

Thus begins "Loving Roger": Anna at work; Roger lying dead back in her bed-sitter. Anna will do no work today; she will tell us of her affair with Roger, her lover of two years, the father of her child.

In telling this story of love to the death, British author Tim Parks sets himself a number of obstacles: The climax is revealed in the first few pages. The narrator is a vacuous 20-year-old secretary whose thoughts and expressions derive from television and romantic fiction. The narrator does not merely tell the story; she addresses us, making our "presence" the reason for the story. We are not to be told the Truth, but only whatever version of it the narrator is willing for us to know. There is almost no dialogue. There are incredible events that we are expected to accept as credible.

These are formidable obstacles, and Parks does not totally overcome them. However, their use is not mere literary conceit; Parks knows what he is trying to do; the extent to which he succeeds is impressive.

When Anna meets Roger, the company's new typesetter, she finds him to be bright and articulate. Roger is concerned not only with appearances (he does not want anyone at the office to know of his affair with Anna), but also with the Meaning of Things. Or is he?

Each time we think we know what is happening, something occurs to make us doubt ourselves. We sense possibilities both Anna and Roger seem to be missing. Who is really the victim? Who the perpetrator?

There is the startling possibility that Anna is being manipulated by Roger into being his instrument of self-destruction. Or is Anna merely setting herself up?

Be warned that Parks does not give away all at the beginning. The book ends with an ambiguous postscript, one which opens whole new--even frightening--possibilities. Parks does not cheat; the revelations that occur throughout--startling though they may be--are almost never inconsistent.

Anna's narrow perspective proves liberating. Since we know Anna is missing much of what is going on, we do not have to accept her interpretations. This allows us a wonderfully multifaceted perspective. We see the Anna that Anna wants us to see, but seeing through her words, we also sense how she might be perceived by her colleagues and friends. And, beyond this, there is some suggestion as to who Anna might really be.

Occasionally, Parks puts words and ideas into Anna's mouth that seem out of character: "I was thinking I shouldn't have let my rage be dissipated in this silly expedition." But even such phrases and ideas verge on the possible--after all, do we really know this woman?

"Loving Roger" should prove an enjoyable and controversial book. It will keep you thinking long after you put it down.

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