Books: Sleeping Beauty

THE DESERT by Allen Wheelis. 163 pages. Basic Books. $5.95.

Like the platypus, a semiaquatic, egg-laying mammal, this book should not work but does. It is part love story, part lecture in existential psychoanalysis, and part rumination on the frayed bootstraps of mankind. Altogether, Allen Wheelis' novel does far more than merely survive on its own terms in its own special territory.

Max Archer, the narrator-hero of the story section, is—like Wheelis himself —a San Francisco psychoanalyst. Fortyish and divorced, Archer regularly sees his patients, consults with his colleagues, plays a little chess and...

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