cover image Altmann's Tongue: Stories and Novella

Altmann's Tongue: Stories and Novella

Brian Evenson. Alfred A. Knopf, $22 (239pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42912-8

The spirit of Edgar Allan Poe inhabits this collection of violent and mysterious stories that recall not only that master of the perverse but also the seamier side of the nightly news. Death seems to arrive inevitably, often quickly, in these tales; in the title story, a man contemplates the justice of the two murders he has just committed, and, in the concluding novella, a detective relentlessly pursues a trail of bodies that leads ever closer to himself. Despite the horror present in each story, Evenson's blend of wit and shock, which plunges readers into the minds of his often demented protagonists, serves to create acceptance even as it generates repulsion; in ``Stung,'' for example, a boy seemingly kills his stepfather for no apparent reason but then is seduced, languidly and ineluctably, by his mother. Many of these tales, particularly the short-shorts, remain enigmatic, resistant to any explication; yet even they are told in such a compelling fashion that one reads not to understand but merely to witness. (Sept.)