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IN BRIEF

Fiction

September 29, 1996|MICHAEL HARRIS

BY THE SHORES OF GITCHEE GUMEE by Tama Janowitz (Crown: $23, 288 pp.).

OK. Call Longfellow's poems

19th century soaps or sitcoms;

Then it makes some sense for Tama

("Slaves of New York") Janowitz to

Parody them in this novel--

Hiawatha's Big-Sky-Water

Now a stinking, buggy cesspool;

Dwelling in a trailer near it

Evangeline and her five children

(Born of five itinerant fathers):

Maud, our cynical narrator;

Leopold, age 6, the sous-chef;

Pierce, the dim-bulb would-be actor;

Marietta quoting verses;

Theodore aspiring to songwrite.

Noble savages? No way. A

Minne-haha! to that idea.

Grunge they are, a pack of hustlers

L.A.-bound (by way of Florida);

English lords and vacuum-cleaner

Salesmen rue the day they meet them. . . .

Some sense, we said. Yet "Gitchee

Gumee" paddles its canoe on

Little more than nonstop wisecracks--

Cultural satire, yes, and funny;

Still, it vanishes behind us

Like a wake on water's surface,

Leaving us amused but chilly.

Maybe novels are like mittens--

Best not made with a thin side inside

When they've got the snide side outside!

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