Like most of Thomas Disch, this book is criminally underrated. It's a series of episodes centering around the same set of characters, living in a dystopian near-future New York City; it's hard to know whether to call it a loosely-structured novel, or a tightly integrated collection of short stories. The most natural comparison point is a movie like Short Cuts
, with multiple intersecting story-lines and a big ensemble cast.
My favorite sequence must be Angouleme
, where a bunch of bored, very smart pre-teens decide to murder an old man, just for the hell of it. They even give him the code-name "Alyona Ivanovna". It doesn't quite work out the way they expect. Another one I found particularly memorable is about a woman who falls in love with her social worker, after he reads her a passage from a novel featuring a sex scene on a sofa with a defective leg. They're sitting on a sofa with a defective leg at the time; surely that can't be a coincidence? I'll leave it to you to guess whether it is or not, but once again, things don't work out as planned.
In fact, it's rare for anyone in this collection to feel that they have the remotest degree of control over their destinies. I doubt that Michael Bay has ever considered filming it, and it's not the sort of book that's likely to leave you smiling. Except over the quality of the writing, which is, as usual with Disch, quite excellent. Hasn't that critical reappraisal got into gear yet?