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The Pleasures Of Effrontery
by Merna Summers

KENNETH RADU is interested in the ways in which human beings seduce and exploit and neglect each other, in the inner workings of the exploiters, and the effects in the lives of their victims. In "Black Tulips," one of 14 stories in this new collection, the main character is an actress who is a monster of heedlessness. She has promised to pay return fare for her son`s nanny to return to her home in Lichtenstein. "I can only afford bus fare as far as Halifax," she says. "Do you think you could manage from there?" Her husbands meet untimely ends, some of them suggestive of suicide, and her son is increasingly troubled, but the bizarre show that is her life goes on. Theatricality is often an accompaniment to exploitation in Radu`s stories. The "Private Performance" of the title story is put on by a woman who lives in a dream of aris. tocracy, sucking the life out of her son in order to continue playing her chosen role. A different kind of unreality is explored in "Extreme Caution" Here, a male prostitute dreams of a life in California, where fees are higher and "The porn flics are always on the lookout for hot bodies and faces and pay big bucks. They have come of age, are respectable, give awards annually for best performances " The main character in `Real Men" sells not his body, but various kinds of useless knowledge - or perhaps only the buzz-words of that knowledge - as a "consultant" and giver of seminars. Here, too, there is a sense of being on stage. We first see him beside a swimming pool, "arms under his head, legs stretched out, his fifty-dollar red bikini eyecatching and protuberant" But this man is a performer waiting for the play to begin, a role to come along. `Real Men" is a story about many things: about exploitation, about trespassing, about plundering in other peoples lives. It is also one of the finest in the book. Radu has, it seems, an insatiable curiosity about what it is like to live other lives. He is interested in what makes some human beings withdraw from life, in why some people are over-cautious and others are careless of hazards. His range is broad indeed. Characters in these stories include a subway musician, a man who can hear the screams of trees dying along the Amazon ... even Her Majesty, the Queen. In "State Visit," a story 1 recommend to those with a taste for the pleasures of effrontery, Radu writes from the viewpoint of the British monarch: In this heat and humidity, the blatant falseness of what she was saying rang so loudly that she wondered why people didn`t swoon from sheer exasperation. But she knew that, in some respects, she had the emotional appeal of a circus, and answered a primordial need for idealism, ceremony, and human dignity, apparently missing everywhere except in her own person. A Private Performance is Radu`s third book in as many years. It contains some fine and varied stories from one of the chameleons and rising stars - of Canadian literature.

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