This slender volume, composed of three tales the author terms "illusions," is a return to the chimerical mood of such earlier Kotzwinkle books as Fata Morgana. It's a baffling, unsatisfying outing from the prolific writer, one not improved in the least by the clunky chiaroscuro sketches by Joe Servello that accompany the text.
In "Django Reinhardt Played the Blues," such historical figures as Pablo Picasso, an opium-tranced Jean Cocteau and the jazz guitarist of the title join a search for a magician's assistant who vanished into another dimension during a trick. There are two shorter pieces, "Blues on the Nile," in which a pharaoh is entombed and travels to the spirit world, and "Boxcar Blues," the most diverting of the three, in which two clowns from a cheap circus flee from Death.
While sustaining a surrealistic tone, Kotzwinkle sacrifices his wit and storytelling talents. It's a poor trade. The Hot Jazz Trio is often forced, at times obtuse. At best, it has passages where the prose might be described as livid. (Houghton Mifflin, $17.95)