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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

The Horned Man
By James Lasdun
W.W. Norton & Company/ 193 pages/ $24.95
ISBN: 0393003361
Available in Trade Paperback May 3, 2003

Lawrence Miller takes a book down from a shelf in his office at a New York City college. He discovers a bookmark has been moved. A call to an unfamiliar area code made at two a.m. shows up on his telephone bill. He discovers the previous occupant of his office is now dead. He thinks he sees his psychiatrist on the street, but she denies it. During a meeting of the college's Sexual Harassment Committee -- as a teacher of gender studies, Miller feels such service is an ethical obligation -- he is told, in passing, of a womanizing visiting professor, Bogomil Trumilchik, who had caused some problems. These, and other signs, lead Miller to begin to suspect that a now deranged Trumilchik is hiding in his office at night. Paranoia begins to rule his life. Nothing may be as it seems or, worse, everything he suspects may be all too real.

Cover Miller, an expatriate Brit whose American wife has left him, begins to believe Trumilcik's misogyny may have led him to murder. He progresses to fearing that Trumilchik is framing him for his crimes. Lasdun plays a brilliant literary game with the reader. Although he provides an intentionally indefinite conclusion, he does supply a great many clues to its nature along the way. The narration occasionally seems to bog down a bit, but in retrospect you realize the "bog" made significant sense.

The book certainly fills the "surreal distortion and sense of impending danger" definition of Kafkaesque, but Lasdun also reinterprets that inner sense of defectiveness Kafka embodies so well in The Trial's Joseph K. in a modern context. Lasdun's unreliable, obsessive, professorial narrator also suggests Nabokov's Humbert Humbert.

Mysterious, witty, disturbing, intelligent, and beautifully written, The Horned Man is a surreal nightmare -- one from which you may never quite wake-up. -- Cemetery Dance #44

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Copyright © 2003 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.