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IN BRIEF

Fiction

August 06, 1995|ERIKA TAYLOR

MEN IN BLACK by Scott Spencer. (Knopf: $23; 321 pp.) Once every few years a novel will fill me with an almost magical joy. It is an intimate sensation like finding a long-lost twin, or better yet, a long-lost older sibling who is benevolent and wise. Magical novels work on an individual basis. The unique vision that suits one person's inner vocabulary perfectly, may leave another baffled or indifferent. Everything in Scott Spencer's latest book--his slightly surreal plot, stunningly drawn protagonist, and brilliant use of language--contains that feeling of deep, personal gratification.

"Men In Black" is narrated, for the most part, by Sam Holland, a literary novelist with a sideline of writing quickie, pseudonymous books ("An Intelligent Woman's Guide To Pro Football," "Traveling With Your Pet") to pay the bills. When Holland writes "Visitors From Above" no one suspects that this largely made-up primer on UFOs will become an enormous bestseller. At bottom, "Men In Black" is the story of one man trying to learn to tell the truth, but it is also the story of a marriage, an angry kid, a media hype, and a country whose identity has become hopelessly fractured. Spencer's writing works on a number of different levels. Profound ideas are interwoven with a story that is not only thoroughly engrossing, but very funny as well. This is the Cadillac of novels--every word vibrating with a kind of shameless, big-boned, American grace.

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