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Dictionary of Modern Anguish, Dictionary of Modern Anguish, 157366085X, 1-57366-085-X, 978-1-57366-085-3, 9781573660853, , , Dictionary of Modern Anguish, 1573660868, 1-57366-086-8, 978-1-57366-086-0, 9781573660860,

Dictionary of Modern Anguish
by Ralph M. Berry

Quality Paper
2000. 200 pp.
Price:  $18.95 t
2000. 225 pp.
Price:  $24.95 t

Fourteen enactments of radical undoing by the acclaimed author of Leonardo's Horse and Plane Geometry and Other Affairs of the Heart. Reviews of unwritten novels, prefaces to fraudulent books, narratives of dictionary entries, and one interminable sentence, all written in a style as strewn with landmines as everyday speech.

In "Samuel Beckett's Middlemarch" a scholar undertakes to reconstruct the deceased author's reputation after the discovery of a thousand page realist novel among Beckett's posthumous papers. The novel, about an idealistic young Englishwoman in a nineteenth-century village, is heralded by some as Beckett's broadest parody, decried by others as Beckett's dementia, but in the imaginary interval between modernity and tradition the scholar locates another Beckett of whom only Middlemarch can make an end.

The spirit of Wittgenstein hovers low over these literary pratfalls where materiality proves the most artificial of abstractions and what goes without saying always leaves somebody up in the air. In "Knott Unbound" an office worker suspected of murder recalls feeling a pain but can't otherwise account for his time. "That the missing time should be missing from his life seemed, if you thought about it, the merest of accidents, like bad genes or rich parents, and the thought that Knott's well-being rested on nothing surer, nothing but the likelihood that his every second would follow the preceding with no break, all this struck him as fantastically irrational. How did humans abide it? But the world was a slave to such prejudices."

In these fabrications reminiscent of Stein, Borges, and Sorrentino, Berry unsettles the grounds of narrating. In "Mimesis" a semi-literate surveyor struggles against metaphysical abandonment in a Florida swamp; in "Torture!" an anthropologist leaves his lifelong study of cruelty mysteriously unwritten; and in "A Theory of Fiction" a ruined man finds revenge in misrepresenting every injustice he's ever suffered. Nothing seems the matter. Everything appears to be wrong. From first word to last, these are fictions of impossible everydayness, where the telling of what's happening proves the unlikeliest feat of all.

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