Picks and Pans Review: God's Gym

UPDATED 02/14/2005 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 02/14/2005 at 01:00 AM EST

By John Edgar Wideman

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This collection of 10 short stories, Wideman's first in as many years, is a mental workout. The best revisit topics he has written about before, including sex, race and family, such as "Fanon," in which an African-American man visiting Martinique with his white girlfriend becomes irrationally jealous after a man stares at her on the beach. But the book is a mixed bag: For every story that is emotionally complex and satisfying, another fails. "Hunters," for example, attempts to create a parable out of a fantasy murder/rape but comes off as being simply angry. And two ambitious stories about basketball try to include too much, leaving them merely confusing. Like jazz, which Wideman's loose prose closely resembles, this is not for everybody. And like doing too many reps with a heavy weight, you may be fatigued when done.


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