From Publishers Weekly
Why does famed novelist Elkin hoard some 5000 bars of soap stolen from hotels, motels and airlines? Because soap to him represents a symbolic way to stave off death, "anal greed," a link to his traveling-salesman father who filched soap from hotel rooms. These hyperconversational, confessional essays, previously published in Esquire , Harper's , etc., provide moments of pure glee ("California must be the quality-time capital of the world"). Bemused voyeur in the funhouse of American culture, Elkin makes laceratingly funny observations on horse races, Academy Awards ceremonies, modern dance and deliberately offensive "shock radio" announcers. Each idiosyncratic piece careens from topic to topic, infused with deadly wit and stunning sentences ("Palm trees . . . are only this sort of exposed, visible root system, essentially comic, topsy, turvying nature"). In love with words and life, Elkin taps pure gold in contemplating the terrors and compensations of middle age, and summer's "dangerously dropped guard." The literary essays are full of provocations, as when he muses "Form . . . creates cliche," and defines the novel by observing that "all books are the Book of Job , high moral tests and tasks set in fairy tales."
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
Twenty-nine high-wire acts that prove Elkin (The MacGuffin, 1991; The Rabbi of Lud, 1987, etc.) one of our zaniest acrobats of the acerb since Perelman. Elkin wrote these pieces over the past ten years or so, as personal reminiscences or as introductions to his own reprint volumes or to story collections by others. As ever, one stands in the blast as Elkin goes into meltdown. For Elkin to be with it, his muse must be in wordgasm, or so he apparently thinks (``Like some human beast, [the flamenco dancer] seems to rise from the broad, tiered flounces of her costume as from a package of waves at a shoreline, the great, fabric petals of her long train swirled, heaped as seawater at her feet...''). Some readers, however, will bless him when he relaxes and a story or linear subject forms on the nova. At his best, as in ``My Middle Age'' and ``My Father's Life,'' he's personal, even heartfelt: ``The forties were my father's decade. He looked like a man of the forties. The shaped fedora and the fresh haircut, shined shoes...His soft silver hair, gray since his twenties; the dark, carefully trimmed mustache; the widow's peak; the long, patrician features; his good cheekbones like drawn swords. The vague rakishness of his face like a kind of wink.'' Elkin is absorbing when bemused by the needs of fiction, telling us about plot, scholarship, the writing craft, and how his short stories came to be, or when taking jabs at his multiple sclerosis. He strikes strong notes of homecoming when meeting the current owner of the Johnson-Smith novelty company (whose ads appear in the back of comic books), and truly rings bells when describing his lust for bars of soap from hotels around the world (he has five or six thousand bars). Bed-table sedative that amuses with hairpin turns and arabesques. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.