Books: Abstract Prose

IDA — Gerfrude Stein — Random House ($2).

Most readers require of prose that it make concrete sense as they think sense should be made. So Gertrude Stein, who uses prose to build a series of abstractions, either infuriates most readers or elicits defensive jeers. But readers who are willing to read words as they are willing to listen to notes in music—as things without an explicit message—can get from her work a rare pleasure. The three stories in her earliest (1909) book, Three Lives, being anchored to sense, are good ones to start on. Her latest book, Ida, much more abstract,...

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