November 22, 1993 12:00 PM

by Donald Antrim

There could hardly be a worse world than the one Antrim has conjured in this funny first novel, where neighbors secure yards with snake pits and spiked fences, families stage battles in the park and the mayor is drawn and quartered by constituents.

These are some of the tamer deeds described in this post-Orwellian fable of social and moral disintegration. Set somewhere on a southeast coast, the novel is narrated by Pete Robinson, a would-be contender for mayor and a teacher whose specialty is the history of medieval torture devices. When the town’s school system is voted out of existence, Robinson holds a class in his basement, which is outfitted with the very torture devices he has so impressively lectured about, providing the story’s monstrously macabre ending.

It is a testament to Antrim’s skill that he keeps us laughing in the face of so much horror. By novel’s end, one needs no convincing that any world would be better than the one this talented newcomer has so vividly invented. (Viking, $20)

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