Bukiet's blend of storytelling brio and audacious imagination calls to mind such disparate maximalists as Rushdie and Mark Helprin.
Right off the bat, A Faker's Dozen, the newest collection by veteran novelist and story writer Melvin Jules Bukiet, announces a more than accidental union. Just as the title proclaims, there are liars and scoundrels aplenty here, and each story features at least one character you wouldn't want to marry, to put it mildly. But the book's greater constancy lies in Bukiet's signature style, a discomfiting amalgamation of dark seriousness overlaid with explosively extravagant slapstick. This is a tricky combination to pull off, and for the most part, he succeeds.
Bukiet (Strange Fire, etc.) loses his bearings in this strained, wooden collection, which strives so hard to be clever that subtlety flies out the window. The 11 stories are best compared to Woody Allen's fictional sendups of great writers, but lack Allen's intelligent wit and insight. "The Two Franzes," a story about the young Franz Kafka, reads like a discarded skit for an intellectual's Saturday Night Live!, with 12-year-old Franz playing messenger boy to his first mentor, playwright Franz Grillparzer. Kafka's budding talent is ploddingly noted ("he often had ideas that he didn't know what to do with"), as is the genesis of The Metamorphosis ("You little insect," hisses his sister). Many of the entries focus on writers and the theme of literary envy. In "Squeak, Memory," Vladimir Nabokov is stalked by a young fan in 1973, with the Watergate scandal providing a contrived backdrop. In "Paper Hero," an unknown novelist plans a ridiculous publicity stunt at a German book fair that goes predictably awry (he's flogging a novel called Strange Fire). In the ambitious metafictional story "Tongue of the Jews," a WASP-y corporate lawyer becomes a guilt-ridden chronicler of Holocaust stories and is drawn into the plot of a Philip Roth-type novel, but the effort is marred by broad caricatures of wealthy Jewish New Yorkers. Throughout, Bukiet's pacing is uncertain and his tone uneven, literary pastiche alternating with bald colloquialisms ("Randall sometimes knew when he had been dissed"). These juxtapositions at times yield flashes of humor, but Bukiet never exhibits the incisive wit required for effective satire or farce. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Readers who appreciate dark humor and sly wickedness will enjoy this collection of oddball tales. While a number have previously appeared in literary magazines, gathering them together provides a more intense exposure to the author's somewhat jaded view of human nature. There is an aspiring writer who, in the summer of Watergate, stalks Vladimir Nabokov across Manhattan, only to steal the great man's new shoes. A teenage suburbanite experiences his own version of The Iliad and ends up singing to the "scalpel that severs the quadrants of the human heart." We learn that the real power behind Microsoft started out as a brilliant teenage girl who, being beautiful, was never taken seriously. In response, she decided to create an alternative reality, which she controlled from the front seat of a 30-year-old Dodge Dart. Then, there is the marzipan bunny-eating young Franz Kafka and the ironic end of a photographer obsessed with photographing victims of violent death-his own involves a giant mechanical rabbit. All in all this is a spirited, wonderfully quirky collection from the author of Signs and Wonders. Suited to larger academic and public library collections.-David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Eleven stories in a third collection from Bukiet (While the Messiah Tarries, 1995, etc.) focus on the complicated lives of the renowned and disingenuous. In the opener, "Squeak, Memory," a writer stalks Nabokov in New York during the Watergate season. A Humbert Humbert's Quilty-figure to Vladimir, the unnamed narrator delights in extracting hidden meanings from every mundane gesture of the great writer and lepidopterist. In "Splinter," a seriously funny rumination on collectible relics, a science-fiction hack turned media-mogul bids for the centerpiece completing his reconstruction of the True Cross, only to be upstaged by a mysterious woman in green. "The Return of Eros to Academe" will provoke the ire of campaigners who thought Mamet's Oleanna tackled the seductive student/teacher relationship genre unrealistically. "Paper Hero" trails a literary wannabe (Bukiet's doppelgänger) who's convinced that in order to publish his book and usurp Rushdie on the Islamic most wanted list, he needs to be shot. "The Suburbiad" is a mythopeic bore. But, fortunately, "The Swap" picks up the slack with a Borgesian tale of a Nobel laureate and his Faustian deal with a cab driver. Next comes "Filophilia," as a homicidal mother's soliloquy before a judge shows the extent to which a mother can love her son. "But, Microsoft! What Byte Through Yonder Windows Breaks?" is, well, slightly overcooked. "Tongue of the Jews" toys with a delicate matter. Gentile Ned, obsessed with Judaism and the Holocaust, confronts his idol, Keeper, a writer and survivor who has been sleeping with Ned's wife and publishing the details. Keeper decides to help Ned convert, symbolically, using a sharp letter opener. In "The TwoFranzes," a young Kafka roams the streets of Prague delivering absurd correspondences between a playwright and an aristocrat, while "The War Lovers" chronicles a perverse homicide/genocide photographer whose end comes at the hands and teeth of mechanical bunnies. Intelligent and amusing: a tour de force for the literate tabloid enthusiast.