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Fiction in Brief

MAN WITHOUT MEMORY by Richard Burgin (University of Illinois Press: $14.95; 126 pp.)

September 03, 1989|SONJA BOLLE

Opening this book is like stepping into quicksand. Richard Burgin's ingenious tales are disconcerting from the word go. The opening story, "Notes on Mrs. Slaughter," begins: "I'm living with Mrs. Slaughter in her apartment in Cambridge. She's not a bad housekeeper and now that the Mafia is beginning to leave her alone, she's regained her skill in cooking." The reader never knows where to find solid ground: Are these characters joking? Are they sane? "It's only a story," one comforts oneself. And yet. . . .

These may be the people one stands next to in the grocery line. One jostles them in the street. After reading these stories, who knows how they will react? Mrs. Slaughter's lodger, reading a newspaper in Harvard Square, is seized by vertigo: "Suddenly I was overwhelmed by the amount of work that went into producing it, the work that was in it. Afraid of bursting into tears, I quickly put it back on the stand." His solution: "Maybe there were too many newspapers in Harvard Square. That may be why I started to take the bus out to the suburbs . . . to do my walking there."

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