Barry Schechter Free Recommended

When: Wed., Aug. 5, 7 p.m. 2009

Barry Schechter's debut novel, The Blindfold Test (Melville House), is a funny book with lots of local color--circa 1985--so there are bound to be laughs when he reads from it. Some of the laughter will come from truly funny lines: "The Left. I keep forgetting the only conviction of our generation still holds is hatred of polyester." Some will come from rueful recognition: one character's mental life lies "between dread and whimsy." And then there are shrewd descriptions, like this one of fictional Skokie Valley Community College: "Whining was the faculty's social glue, playing the same role as that filled at other institutions by bridge, racquetball, or gossip." Schechter's protagonist is a hapless SVCC composition instructor whose life has been all but ruined by a rogue FBI agent. Women have been paid not to sleep with him, and hiring committees have received fraudulent letters denouncing him. Lifelong Chicagoan Schechter, who has published in The Paris Review, the Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Review, paints an absurd and menacing Chicago, populated by bands of raging populists in mirrored sunglasses and fake beards, a company that researches how much inconvenience consumers are willing to tolerate until they reach the breaking point, and homeless people who die with holes in their heads. It's not wholly successful as a comic novel or as social criticism, and it's just shy of touching, but it's an amusing read. --S.L. Wisenberg

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