Delightfully original Civil War tale mixes good cheer and gothic horror

New fiction

February 19, 2006|By DONNA RIFKIND | DONNA RIFKIND,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Amalgamation Polka

Stephen Wright

NNNNN

Carl Reiner

Simon & Schuster / 224 pages / $21

As an actor, television writer and film director, Carl Reiner is a national treasure, and there is nothing to be gained by treating him with any hint of disrespect. However, having written something new that bears several dubious resemblances to a novel, he presumes a little more fortitude than an admiring reader is able to muster.

NNNNN purports to tell the story of Nat Noland, a best-selling writer whose latest project is a reworking of the Cain and Abel story. With the help of a psychiatrist and a beautiful "empathologist" named Gertrude Trampleasure, Nat investigates the murky particulars of his past and discovers that he is one of three identical brothers, each living on different continents. Reiner's creaky attempts to move this plot forward are wince-inducing, as are the excerpts from Nat's biblical opus. Mercifully, this book is far too trifling to dent Reiner's bulletproof reputation.

Donna Rifkind is a former literary agent and magazine editor whose writing has been published by Commentary, The Times Literary Supplement and The New York Times.

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