The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 14 August 2003


by Jerzy Kosinski

Of the several books by Kosinski that this reader has read, perhaps only Being There comes away with a flow and lightness of subject that ends up being engaging. The rest are heavy with disturbing plot and imagery. Some of them, however, like The Painted Bird, are absorbing and excellent. Steps, which might be more appropriately titled Fragments, feels like a collection of dark episodes that Kosinski couldn't fit into his longer works. It is a novel only in the loosest sense. Written from the perspective of a recent immigrant, reflecting on sordid episodes before and after arrival in a new (and unspecified) country, the book feels vaguely uneasy and somewhat nauseating. We read of bizarre sexual episodes of violence and exploitation. We read of sad and ugly acts of violence and revenge. And all of this comes from a profoundly dominant male perspective. Women are here only to be used. Men are in control, and are almost universally mercenary. The narrator, who seems to vary from episode to episode, seems amoral and insensitive. OK, many of these chapters ring true to the dark corners of life. But strung together like this, the book, which is just 148 pages long, feels overwhelming. It isn't terrifically written, and the jerky pace and episodic nature fail to engage the reader.

(Mysteriously, for this book, Kosinski was awarded the 1969 National Book Award for fiction.)

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