REMOTE by David Shields (Knopf: $21.95; 206 pp.) This is what is meant by the terms "smart aleck," "too clever by half" and "wise guy." I want you to look at me, Shields says right up front, accompanied by a cute little snapshot of a childhood birthday party in which the author turns from the fun to stare directly at the camera. The book, writes Shields, is "not concerned with the psychodynamics of the American nuclear family. It is neither a coming of age novel nor a love story." It is "an allegory, an allegory about remoteness."
Many of the snapshot essays are titled "The Nimbus of His Fame Makes a Nullity of Us All," the funniest being an episode at an ice cream parlor in which Shields watches O.J. Simpson ("before he took the Bronco out for a spin on I-5") trying to pick up a female customer who finally, in desperation, pretends Shields is her boyfriend. He is, bless his heart, himself a camera lens, nonjudgmental ("Now the only people I like are ambivalent about everything to the point of paralysis"), realistic about our slavery to image: "Give me the heated-up myth, each of us practically prays to the screen: Make life seem coherent and big and free of my qualifying consciousness." The danger, of course, in writing about fluff and modern life is that you spend too much time thinking about fluff and modern life, until you resemble not a little the prostitutes in "You'll Never Make Love in This Town Again," trapped, mired in it.