May 28, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

This cloying tale narrated by a dog named Mr. Bones should annoy Paul Auster’s fans even more than his last book, the skimpy memoir Hand to Mouth. Flashes of Auster’s delightful eccentricity appear in his depiction of Willy G. Christmas, an itinerant poet on a do-good mission from Santa Claus, whose death leaves loyal, wise Mr. Bones alone to ponder human nature (dogs can understand ”Ingloosh” but can’t speak it) and heaven (Timbuktu). Unfortunately, sophomoric tricks in Timbuktu (Santa=Satan, God=Dog) dilute Auster’s verbal electricity, and sentimentality substitutes for the magical fatalism of masterpieces like The Music of Chance. For a writer of Auster’s talents, this effort is a mere dog paddle. C

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