Books: Atavistic Gondolas

STORIES IN AN ALMOST CLASSICAL MODE

by Harold Brodkey

Knopf; 596 pages; $24.95

Over the decades, Harold Brodkey has become the darling of what might be called the Grecian Urn School of literary critics ("Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter"). Brodkey's enormous reputation does not stem from his first book, a collection of nine short stories published back in 1957, but from a novel, Party of Animals, that he famously refuses to finish. To be sure, Brodkey's short fiction has occasionally appeared in magazines over the intervening decades. But it is his lonely struggle to produce a big...

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