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IN BRIEF

Fiction

January 02, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

THE EVOLUTION MAN or How I Ate My Father by Roy Lewis (Pantheon: $18; 214 pp.) It's the chilly end of the Pleistocene, and our hero is Ernest, the eldest son in an upwardly mobile, modern stone-age family. Edward, the father, pushes the family to evolve, bringing fire down from the mountain and his brood down from the trees, a step which Uncle Vanya greets with contempt: "You'll be extinct, the whole pack of you, in no time. You've had it. Yah! I'm going back to the trees! You've overstepped the mark this time, Edward! That's what the brontosaurus did, too!" There's Wilbur, excellent at flint-napping from an early age; Oswald, the great hunter; Alexander, the artist and discoverer of cave-painting; William, the youngest, with a penchant for domesticating animals; Mother, who discovers cooked meat and who, like every ape-woman, "wants a decent place in which to bring up her family . . . basically this means a cave'; various aunts and uncles, and our narrator, who basically means well but is the first to tire of his father's prodding, and to exhibit Oedipal symptoms. It's the beginning of the end, artfully told and laugh-out-loud funny. "The Evolution Man" has been out of print for several decades, and we're glad it's come down from the trees.

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