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IN BRIEF

Fiction

October 02, 1994|ERIKA TAYLOR

USER by Bruce Benderson (Dutton: $19.95; 272 pp.) Imagine taking a tour through the seediest part of New York. Your tour guide--a young, gay prostitute who will do anything, truly anything, for a bag of heroin--shoves you directly into the lives of various desperate street people. There are drug-addicted transvestites, angry homeless teen-agers, hustlers, crack dealers and any other imaginable type of nighttime dweller. When, after a couple of hours, you tell your guide (who's named Apollo) that it's time to go home, he says, "Sorry, Sweetheart, there's still a lot I want you to see." That is more or less how it feels to read the first 20 pages of Bruce Benderson's novel, "User."

After 40 pages the feeling changes. This man is an amazing writer. Benderson gathers his characters inner selves, their conflicts with each other, and relationship to the world and creates a brutal overlapping collage. Somehow these people become so understandable, so alive that it no longer matters if their actions are sympathetic or even make any sense to mainstream society. They are presented without judgment of any kind.

Near the beginning of "User" Apollo fights and almost kills Casio, the bouncer at a Times Square porn theater where he turns tricks. Casio's son swear revenge. Apollo's subsequent attempts to lay low from police and pull his life together while Casio's son looks for him form just enough plot to keep the pages turning. But, "User," isn't really about plot, it's about, among other things, different kinds of addiction. "He stood in the light of the sex movie to use its pale colors to tie up and shoot the bag. He realized that he had missed the burial of the needle in flesh as much as he had missed the dope. It's not the dope that makes the big difference, he thought as it seeped into his flesh. It's doing it." "User" is a book for a very specific audience, but that doesn't change the fact that it is unmistakably brilliant.

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