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IN BRIEF

Fiction

August 11, 1996|CHRIS GOODRICH

THE BOOKSELLER: by Matt Cohen (St. Martin's: $21.95, 256 pp.). A boxer-turned-bookseller? It does stretch credibility somewhat, but then again Paul Stevens, the novel's narrator, is wedded to neither occupation; they exist mainly to help define the two important relationships in Paul's life, with his older brother, Henry, and with his difficult girlfriend, Judith.

"In "The Bookseller," Matt Cohen, a prolific Canadian novelist, has written a rather aimless novel with a similarly aimless protagonist, one destined to have his talents overshadowed by stronger personalities. There's Henry, both tough-talking and ingratiating, seemingly on top of life until the bottom falls out; Judith, not so different from Henry, addicted to drugs rather than alcohol but able, apparently, to talk anyone into anything, and Nicko, the corrupt undercover cop whose hold on Henry and Judith forces Paul into action.

The major problem with the book is Paul's diffidence for it's difficult to become engaged with a life from which the narrator himself seems disengaged. Paul tells of his childhood and youth, his ordinary parents and larger-than-life brother but his self-analysis seems deliberately superficial, as if he believed it was possible to talk anger and resentment away without first experiencing it.

In the book's closing paragraph Paul thinks: "What Henry was and is to me, I still do not know," and the reader is tempted to say the same thing about "The Bookseller."

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