March 11, 1996 12:00 PM

by Stanley Elkin

Stanley Elkin’s final novel—the author died last May at 65—is a great, gasping, galloping read. Frequently hilarious, often poignant, and with a sometimes improbable plot, this National Book Critic’s Circle nominee is consistently astonishing. (Since when is plot such a big deal when you’re in a master’s hands?)

Here, the big deal is the once-beautiful Dorothy Bliss, Ted’s widow, who has seen a lot, including the untimely death of one of her three children. We meet her in her late 60s, when she is mourning for both her husband and son; by story’s end, she’s a very deaf 82 and contemplating life’s seasons from Florida, God’s waiting room.

Along the way, Dorothy takes up with some handsome Latin American drug dealers; befriends Manny from the building, and visits, at her children’s behest, a crackpot claiming to practice what Elkin calls “recreational therapeusis.” Dorothy eventually discovers, in reviewing what she thought was an unexceptional life, that she has been a plucky survivor. And when she finds herself alone and barricaded against Hurricane Andrew, Elkin writes, “you couldn’t have paid her, who’d missed so much, to miss this.” (Hyperion, $22.95)

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