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IN BRIEF

Fiction

January 02, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION by D.M. Thomas (Scribners: $22; 278 pp.) Thomas has a wonderful way of presenting his characters from the inside out; not just on the analyst's couch, but flayed and gutted. It takes at least 10 genteel pages of dialogue before we realize that the backdrop to this novel is Auschwitz, and that these characters spend their days doing unspeakable things, so that their dream-lives, without the insult of every-day normalcy, seem quite logical. A young Jewish inmate with a rudimentary knowledge of Freudian theory treats an S.S. officer for severe headaches and nightmares. Civilized and normal battle it out with perverse and sadistic, in this and just about every human interaction in the book. But the perverse and sadistic triumph over history, bubbling up in the lives of these people, their friends and relatives, five decades later, in the second half of the novel, set in London. The backdrop for these modern lives are the paintings of Edvard Munch, "Madonna," 'The Lonely One," 'Puberty," Embracing Couple, and "The Scream." Weaving around these paintings characters hurt and betray each other and are haunted in their different ways by the Holocaust. As in "The White Hotel," Thomas' images of sex and death leap from the flood undammed by Freud and Jung and Hitler.

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