STARTING WITH the seemingly innocuous arrival of a letter through the protagonist's mail-slot, Marc Diamond's second novel, Property (Coach House, 152 pages, $12.95 paper), rapidly accelerates, by accretionary leaps and bounds, into a brilliantly sustained, rabid meditation on telephones, television, business, insanity, dysfunctional families and, indeed, property, in all its obvious and more covert manifestations. At once misanthropic and compassionate, the book is by turns funny, bitter, confused, terrified, and furious, and manages, for all its narrative spareness and compact size, to pack a considerable moral and emotional punch.
Although some readers might argue that Diamond's targets (television especially) have been lampooned to death, their skewerings, literary or otherwise, can never be frequent enough. Property, to its credit, is trenchant without degenerating into pedantry. Diamond does an admirable job of keeping the book's tone earthy and humane, and proves himself to be exceptionally dextrous at maintaining the tricky balance between outrage and control that such writing requires. In spite of some occasional lapses (most notably, an addled Rousseau-like aside on animals by the protagonist's lover, and an anomalously upbeat ending), Property is both thoughtful and entertaining, mercifully free of "irony," and very, very readable. Highly recommended.