Compellingly whimsical, alienated, pseudo-scientific, bizarre: all these adjectives describe this fiction in the form of a short reference work, the first book by admired Argentinean-Italian novelist Wilcock (1919-1978) to be published in English. Wilcock's early career in Argentina brought him close to the young Borges, and fans of Borges, Italo Calvino or Stanislaw Lem will recognize Wilcock's methods. The book (his best known in Italy) consists of short essays describing the lives of obsessive eccentrics, some real and some imaginary, with each entry giving significant dates, major works and summaries of the relevant obsessions. Some of the real people here seem stranger than fiction: Roger Babson was a rich American pseudoscientist who directed a foundation dedicated to isolating a gravity ""atom"" and finding a substance that could resist it. Another all-too-real oddball is John Cleves Symmes, whose arguments for a ""Hollow Earth"" inspired a story by Poe. Wilcock's greatest aesthetic successes come with the characters he makes up from scratch. Catalan director Llorenz Riber believed he was a rabbit, and therefore brought rabbits onstage in his avant-garde interpretations of Europe's classic plays: he also adapted, for the stage, Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, in order to depict the thinker's famous ""duck-rabbit."" Wilcock's inventions get stranger as he moves on: ""At the age of fifty-nine, the Belgian Henry Bucher was only forty-two."" The telepathic hypnotist Jos Vald s y Prom sabotaged an 1878 congress of theologians and scientists by taking over their minds. So Wilcock proceeds, through 30 other oddly comic entries. Venuti renders Wilcock's Italian into lucid, captivating English, and offers a biographical introduction. Lovers of postmodern mind games should certainly start seeking out Wilcock's work--assuming they can be sure it really exists. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/03/2000 http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-56279-119-3
Review by Phoebe-Lou Adams in The Atlantic (May 2000)
The late J. Rodolfo Wilcock was born in Buenos Aires and belonged to the literary group surrounding Jorge Luis Borges. The connection shows, although Wilcock's short, obliquely satirical pieces lack Borges's depth of unnerving implication. Wilcock describes imaginary sciences and philosophies with deadpan sobriety and wild terminology. These inventions are individually piquant, but become surfeiting if swallowed in one gulp.