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IN BRIEF

Fiction

June 04, 1995|ERIKA TAYLOR

THINGS TO BE LOST by Lionel Newton (Dutton: $19.95; 275 pp.) Reading a truly ambitious novel, regardless of its quality, is, for this reviewer, almost always a pleasure. There is a unique energy, a sort of high-pitched hum, to writing that is unselfconsciously different. "Things to Be Lost," Lionel Newton's second novel, is narrated in flash-back by 12-year-old Randall Roberts, a strange, brilliant, upper-middle-class, African-American kid from Long Island who, on the first page, honors his father's request to kill him.

Randall's tightly packed, disconnected ideas will be recognized as completely authentic to anyone who has spent time with a certain type of half-crazed pre-adolescent boy. He seems unaware of, yet makes frequent references to, the psychological, religious, and social aspects of what has happened in his family. Wheelchair bound after a stroke, Randall's father, who was always a bit odd, becomes overwhelmed by Biblical delusions. Only Randall is allowed into his world. Here are Randall and his mother arguing about what should be done: " 'He's got a hold over you, doesn't he? He's brainwashing you.' . . . She turns her face. Her forehead is resting against the wall and all her weight is leaning forward. It looks extremely uncomfortable . . . 'Then go to him. Go give praise to your God.' 'I will. But he said first I should watch you weep.' "

"Things To Be Lost" is a literary book. It is not an easy read. Much of the middle section moves too slowly, and at times Randall's extreme distance may feel alienating. More importantly, however, it is a novel that takes chances with ancient, emotionally loaded material.

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