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The Verificationist (2000)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679769439, Paperback)The narrator of Donald Antrim's The Verificationist is a middle-aged psychotherapist who meets a handful of colleagues at a pancake house one evening to engage in the seemingly innocuous activity of socializing while eating stacks of fried batter. What commences is a psychosexual deadpan comedy fraught with academic grandstanding, subtle flirting, and lots of good eatin'. Before long, Tom decides to start a food fight, but is restrained in a bear hug by Bernhardt, the father figure of the group. Our hero then proceeds to have an out-of-body experience in which he eavesdrops on his cohorts and ruminates on such things as the very essence of the pancake:
We eat pancakes to escape loneliness, yet within moments we want nothing more than our freedom from ever having so much as thought about pancakes. Nothing can prevent us, after eating pancakes, from feeling the most awful regret. After eating pancakes, our great mission in life becomes the repudiation of the pancakes and everything served along with them, the bacon and the syrup and the sausage and coffee and jellies and jams. But these things are beneath mention, compared with the pancakes themselves. It is the pancake--Pancakes! Pancakes!--that we never learn to respect.Antrim's prose, at home somewhere between the psychologist's couch and a diner's Naugahyde booth, follows this tack for just shy of 200 pages, without chapter or page breaks. Readers familiar with the writer's earlier novels, The Hundred Brothers and Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, will spot this as his preferred modus operandi.
Tom, likewise, follows in the tradition of Antrim's other narrators--a timid yet well-meaning intellectual training his considerable observational and confessional skills upon a tableau at once pathetically banal and rife with meaning. Antrim has a talent for creating characters who speak contemporary psychobabble that falls far short of explaining the absurdity of their dilemmas. Rebecca, the pulchritudinous teenage waitress, and Escobar, Tom's suave Mediterranean friend, not only play their hour upon stage with earnest precision but serve to accentuate Tom's essentially pitiful nature. While Antrim's cast this time out is considerably downsized (literally 100 brothers appeared in The Hundred Brothers), he remains a writer who delights in bouncing disparate characters off one another with hilarious, disastrous results.
In plumbing the pathologies of millennial manhood, The Verificationist is part Robert Bly men's retreat, part sex comedy, and part doctoral thesis. It is served up like a combo platter, best enjoyed in a single sitting, and undeniably tasty. --Ryan Boudinot
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:47 -0400)
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