Vanessa V. Friedman
March 03, 2000 AT 05:00 AM EST

Donald Antrim is a writer of spare and surreal books whose specialty is blending the utterly bizarre with the utterly normal and creating out of the mix a modern fable. His third novel, The Verificationist, is no exception. The setting is a Pancake House, where a group of psychoanalysts have gathered for a relazed dinner; the host, Tom, has a tendency toward childish pranks. When Tom starts to wing some cinnamon toast, a fellow shrink grabs him, thus precipitating a psychic ”break.” Tom rises up toward the ceiling in an out-of-body experience. He is soon joined by a waitress, a colleague, and that colleague’s wannabe girlfriend; together the four soar beyond the normal bounds of social and physical intercourse. Freed of bodies, they are also freed of responsibility. The result, at least in Tom’s case, is a retreat to a childlike state, an abandoning of all adult pretenses. It sounds weird (it is weird), but as the ultimate unreliable narrator, Tom is fabulously entertaining. His metaphorical ascension may be a literal regression, but it is also a superb literary achievement. A

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