MAN.Denis Johnson.Farrar, Straus...


April 21, 1991|By DIANE SCHARPER A DAY IN THE LIFE OF ITALY. Directed by Jennifer Erwitt and Roy Rowan. Collins. 224 pages; 200 photographs. $45.



Denis Johnson.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

257 pages. $19.95.

The hanged man of Denis Johnson's latest novel refers tseveral hanged men. One is the protagonist, Lenny English, who has either failed or succeeded in a suicide attempt -- the author leaves this ambiguous. When the story opens, English begins a new life, as a detective in Provincetown, on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Here, caught in fog and human misery like the town itself, he searches for two other hanged men. One was executed in the 19th century; the other, an artist (possibly English's double), hanged himself. Numerous allusions, moreover, suggest the hanged man of the Tarot deck. This figure -- suspended between heaven and earth -- symbolizes the "essential cosmic isolation" that besets English and, by extension, every man.

"Resuscitation of a Hanged Man" is a contemporary religious allegory. It's a compelling, poetic and Kafkaesque novel whose theme is our inability to connect. As Mr. Johnson puts it, our God is an absence. Our lives are "machine[s] running on . . . the adrenaline and sorrow of a broken love."

A day in the life of Italy begins at 5:45 a.m. as an old fishermaeases his small white boat into the calm waters of Porto San Giorgio. Meanwhile in Venice, the early morning sun silhouettes a man sweeping the marble palazzo.

These opening scenes were captured by a few of the 100 photographers who participated in the visual panorama that is the "A Day in the Life of Italy." The color images, superbly reproduced in a wide-open, thoughtfully designed book, are paired with brief stories, captions and locater maps of Italy.

In the city and the country, on the streets and in homes, the day unfolds with the turning pages. With magnificent backdrops in the city and the country, we catch glimpses of Italians in their daily lives: the mothers with their bambinos, the young boys' eyes on the miniskirted model, and old men discussing politics over espresso in the piazza.

Of course, food is an integral part of the mosaic of Italian life: a nun making biscotti in a convent, families sharing the midday meal, and countless wheels of cheese stacked high in Parma.

April 17, 1990, was a day of memorable images in a most amazing place.




Edited by Marie Cahill.

Pocket Books.

128 pages. $8.95 (paperback).

This book proves that it's bigger than all of us, a sweepinstorm showing no signs of letting up.

Perhaps the most important Elvis Presley book of hundreds already published, "I Am Elvis" doesn't even contain very much information about the King of Rock and Roll.

Yet from the first entry to the last, one human being after another testifies that as long as he or she is alive, so will be the spirit of Presley. A mere sampling of the thousands of the men, women and children around the globe who entertain and amuse others in the guise of Elvis, this straightforward paperback is a directory of 65 dedicated Presley impersonators, their vital statistics and their phone numbers.

Included is Clearance Giddens, the black Elvis; "El Vez," the Mexican Elvis; Janice Kucera, the lady Elvis; and Bruce Borders, by day the mayor of Jasonville, Ind.

My favorite is Dimitri Theodosis of San Saba, Texas, a short story writer and amateur psychotherapist who enjoys serenading beautiful young women in parks and embraces "a willingness to be sensual for the sake of truth in a song."

This is the way religions get started.


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