November 07, 1994 12:00 PM

by Alexander Theroux

Comprised of three essays titled “Blue,” “Yellow” and “Red,” The Primary Colors is an engaging meditation on man’s relationship with color from novelist, poet and fabulist Alexander Theroux. Never pedantic or ostentatious, he writes with a consistently light hand. There is no science here, just association. Yellow is the color of Homer Simpson’s skin; it is also in the devil’s eyes in Rosemary’s Baby. According to one musicologist, it’s the color of D major, and it marks darkness on the map in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Of the color blue, Theroux notes that Liberace once baked a blue lasagna, mistaking Comet cleanser for Parmesan cheese. The Amish paint their gates blue to signal that a daughter is ready to be married. The word “blue,” says Theroux, is missing in many languages, it fades more quickly than most colors, and Hitler had blue eyes.

Each essay reads like a fugue, a composition in which the theme is repeated in a series of connecting examples. The results are at times quizzical. How can red be the most seductive color, tinting lips with such shades as Wet & Wild, and also be the color that symbolizes death and war?

In equally fanciful and esoteric ways, Theroux skillfully argues that a world without color is no world at all. (Holt, $17.95)

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