Books: The Petty Demon

THE THIEF'S JOURNAL by Jean Genet. 268 pages. Grove. $6.

It was Jean-Paul Sartre who canonized Jean Genet. But it was Genet himself—sodomist, petty criminal, playwright (The Blacks)—who thought up the notion that purified evil could be a kind of sainthood. His self-nomination is announced and ritually celebrated in The Thief's Journal, written in the '40s, which is just now translated and published in the U.S. By his own lights, Genet is indeed a saint. But he is a watch-charm saint, a petty demon whose villainy is on so small a scale that its very earnestness is laughable. The crimes that...