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IN BRIEF

Fiction

August 06, 1995|ERIKA TAYLOR

SEDUCTION THEORY Thomas Beller. (Norton: $21; 205 pp.) There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a collection of short stories dealing with the same theme. However, when the stories themselves are nearly identical, it is easy to become irritated rather than illuminated. Five of the ten pieces in Thomas Beller's debut collection, "Seduction Theory" concern intelligent, neurotic, white, New Yorkers in their twenties fumbling unsuccessfully with sex and intimacy. The remaining five stories are about a young boy named Alex who eventually grows up to become, you guessed it, an intelligent, neurotic, white, New Yorker . . . Beller's writing is smart and funny, but there is a prevailing sense of emptiness throughout much of this collection. For the most part, his characters are never seen in the context of a larger world, which robs them of depth. Here is Sarah: "Sarah was occasionally overtaken by a sense of collusion against her. The conspirators varied . . . In this instance, it was nature. Just as a slightly lonely sensation had begun to overtake her, nature dictated that all the leaves die and fall to the ground and that it become unbearably cold."

"Seduction Theory" has a couple of real winners. "A Different Kind of Imperfection," is a wonderful story about Alex, his dead father, and complicated mother. In addition, "Live Wires," which depicts the subtle triangle between Alex, his mother, and his girlfriend, is written very effectively. Overall though, reading "Seduction Theory" feels like people-watching at a co-worker's nephew's barbecue 50 miles from home. It is mildly interesting, forgettable, and, well, I've got to go, I have a long drive.

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