Picks and Pans Review: Shuffle

updated 08/13/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/13/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Leonard Michaels

Few things are as insufferable as a writer obsessed with his own writerliness, unless it's a writer obsessed with both his own writerliness and how gosh-darned irresistible he is to women. Michaels, 57, author of the novel The Men's Club, is guilty on both counts in this collection of autobiographic journal entries, essays and short stories.

There is, for instance, this description of a woman: "But a face is more like a word than like a picture. It has an etymology. Ancient meanings, drawn from the peculiarities of races, geography, weather, flora, fauna, war, and love, collect in a face as in a word. ('The face that launched a thousand ships.') In Evelyn's face, I saw the travels of Marco Polo, the fall of Constantinople, the irredentist yearnings of Hungaro-Romanians." From the sound of her, if he'd looked really carefully, he probably would have seen the 1957 World Series and Bambi there too.

And waxing epigrammatic, he writes, "Anything you say to a writer is in danger of becoming writing." How about, "Go away and leave us alone"?

Michaels can tell a story. The last section of the book is devoted to his travails with his first wife, Sylvia. His portrayal of her—as a jealous, paranoid, nervous wreck—and of their life full of bad sex and grueling arguments doesn't make you want to hire Michaels as a marriage counselor. But it is involving, has an unexpected, touching end and gives the author a focal point for his pointed, if rarely generous wit.

"If the saleslady was affectionate and sincerely attentive," he writes, "Sylvia would buy anything. For every hundred dollars she spent on clothes, she got about 50 cents in value, and would have done better, at much less cost, in a Salvation Army thrift shop, blindfolded."

Too often, though, Michaels just goes along preening. He writes here like somebody who doesn't really have much to say but is determined that there should be a lot of people hearing him say it. (Farrar Straus Giroux, $17.95)

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