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IN BRIEF

Fiction

August 28, 1994|CHRIS GOODRICH

VERTIGO PARK and Other Tall Tales by Mark O'Donnell (St. Martin's Press: $9.95 paper; 146 pp . ) "The future is only the present left to run wild," writes Mark O'Donnell in the title story of this including-the-kitchen-sink collection of stories, quizzes and cartoons, and boy, does he let his horses run free. "Vertigo Park" is one of a handful of relatively conventional stories here, and successful on its own terms if you take your humor black, with an acid chaser; a newly elected U.S. president wants to walk his inauguration route blindfolded, for example, his steps guided by the shouted utterances of the people. O'Donnell, a playwright and former writer for "Saturday Night Live," gives full reign to word play in this book, often to good effect--"Her head swam, and not very well"--but do we really need a soap-operatic playlet composed entirely of fractured dialogue? (Best speech: "My shaft is at rancor in the harbor, and they gave me whore leave. I heard you were engorged, and I just wanted to slop by and pave my regrets.") O'Donnell's work, being willfully over the top, is necessarily hit-or-miss, but considered how pointless many of the failures seem, one longs for a greater sprinkling of bull's-eyes. The humor here can be undernourished--if you're going to imagine Emily Dickinson writing poems for an advertising agency, you should do it up right--but when O'Donnell gets going, as in his wild vignette on a latter-day Paul Bunyan named Johnny Business (son of broad-shouldered Ma Bell), he can be a marvel. O'Donnell, you might say, is a Shawn-era New Yorker satirist on acid . . . and you'll certainly think of James Thurber when you arrive at the cartoon of a caged puma sleeping next to a zoo sign saying, "Please Do Not Disillusion the Animals."

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