Picks and Pans Review: Going Native

updated 05/02/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/02/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Stephen Wright

If you're looking for a page-turner, read no further. But if you're a high-octane prose addict who takes pleasure in watching an author torquing up everyday life until even the banal has the power to perforate the senses, then you've found the right book.

According to Wright, we live in a culture where too much free time and a gulf between the haves and have-nots is breeding gratuitous acts of cruelty. In this novel we watch how such a state affects a group of well-educated, acquisitive Americans who have nothing to do with one another in any narrative sense. The link between them is a character named Wylie Jones, who suddenly abandons his upper-middle-class life and begins roaming around America, either committing acts of murder or seducing women under different aliases.

Going Native, a more elegant way of saying "reverting to the primitive," is a well-chosen showcase for Wright's raw, poetic sensibility. Author of the 1983 novel Meditations in Green, he portrays the effects of violence with hypnotic intensity. An ex-hippie truck driver gets knifed by a hitchhiker, and the blade stuck in his belly pulses to the rhythm of his dying heart. A well-educated woman about to be gunned down at close range in her own kitchen "could see the terrified mouse that was her mind running round and round, searching for an exit." Composed of panoramic prose and comically hip dialogue, Going Native has the impact of an X-acto knife slitting open the bloated belly of American life. (Farrar Straus, $22)

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