Picks and Pans Review: Freddy's Book

updated 04/28/1980 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/28/1980 01:00AM

by John Gardner

Using the novel-within-a-novel device that was so effective in October Light, Gardner has written another strange, mystifying and captivating book. Freddy, the hermit son of a crotchety college history professor, is a giant so grotesque he spends most of his time locked in his room writing a saga of 16th-century Sweden, King Gustav and the Devil. Figuring out what that allegory has to do with Freddy or anything else is a challenge. Is it about political amorality? Religion? The nature of evil? Tourism in Scandinavia? It almost doesn't matter. Gardner's writing is so idiosyncratic and graceful that the tale stands, remarkably, on its own. The insecure Devil becomes an especially appealing character—"It crossed his mind that the way to be safe was perhaps to kill everyone in Sweden. It was an interesting idea but it immediately slipped his mind." It's sad when the Devil seems to die at the end, but then maybe he's just been wished away. "All of us live on illusion," says one character, "so long as we can afford it." (Knopf, $12)

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