Picks and Pans Review: I Dream of Microwaves

updated 05/10/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/10/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Imad Rahman

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Born in Pakistan but now American, Rahman trawls through an unsung underclass of his adopted homeland: struggling actors. To them, sex is an audition, conversations are exchanges of lines, and the free market is a crowded stage for competitive pretending. Frequently hilarious, the eight stories in this debut collection track sentimental-yet-macho Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (not the athlete), underemployed thespian and alcoholic, through bit parts as caricatures of "ethnics" (a "Zima Zorro" in a bar, a mole who infiltrates a terrorist group). Rahman riffs on the absurdity of assimilation, but this isn't just another immigrants-have-it-tough book. He assembles an almost deafening echo chamber in which pulp collides with the lofty: Coleridge meets kitsch at the Ancient Mariner Sports Bar and Grill, I and a production of Hamlet blossoms into X-rated improv. You will laugh—a lot—but you might wish these characters would dream of being more than cardboard cutouts at Blockbuster.


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