MY ROMANCE by Gordon Lish (W. W. Norton: $18.95; 160 pp.). In this "light novel," Gordon Lish not only walks the tightrope between raw feeling and smirking artifice, he dances on it, rides a unicycle, wiggles his ears. Somewhat surprisingly in a work as self-conscious as this--the narrator, like the author, is named Gordon Lish, works for a major New York publisher, is a former fiction editor of Esquire magazine and suffers from psoriasis--he keeps his balance fairly well.
"My Romance" consists of two paragraphs. The first paragraph is 150-odd pages long. The second is a single sentence, or punch line, teetering, like the rest of the novel, between pathos and crashing irony. Together, they make up an impromptu lecture Lish/Lish gives at a writing conference. Burdened by family problems--including his father's recent death, for which he feels partly responsible--he eschews the polite remarks expected of him and tries to "produce a scream of some kind . . . scare myself, change the terms, rearrange the rules, let recklessness overtake me," frankly daring the audience to walk out and the reader to slam the covers shut.