by David Lodge
(Viking) $24.95

You have to be able to access a kind of willful surrender to enjoy David Lodge's world of stuffy, self-important academics and their oblivious toadies, but once you do, the pleasures are many and varied. His brand of British academic satire--the kind made famous by Kingsley Amis and then Michael Frayn--is full of types who work very hard to transcend their type-ness, and almost succeed. In Thinks..., his most recent novel, two of these types crash into each other headlong: Ralph Messenger, a scientist obsessed with artificial intelligence at the fictional University of Gloucester, and Helen Reed, a visiting writer in residence. Messenger, with the weight of the Holt Belling Center for Cognitive Science behind him, believes for all the world that the soul is a construct of the mind, and Reed believes that it is the job of art to reflect and filter the soul; their lofty disagreement leads inevitably to an affair. Messenger, of course, is married, and Reed is still wallowing in grief over the untimely death of her husband, about whom she learns, in the course of her teaching stint, a few unpleasant things. As you might deduct, there is more talking than doing in this novel--a far cry from the slapstick of Lodge's brilliant Small World--but the wordiness of Thinks... is part of its success. EMILY HALL


by Hanna Kroeger
(Hanna Kroeger Publications), 1999

Ours is an era in which people are especially afraid: of relationships, the U.S. government, and many authentically frightening things. But they're also afraid, as this little book communicates, of microscopic critters that go bump in the night. Hanna Kroeger is a natural-foods grocer and herbalist in Colorado whose fears come to life on the page, albeit encoded in a delightfully weird way.

Author of many self-published health books (such as the commandingly written Spices to the Rescue), she believes that most people in the U.S. are hosts to parasites, and that the bloody little creatures might at any moment destroy us from the inside. Parasites cause a long and vague list of common ill-health symptoms like fatigue, pain, sores, fever, anemia, headaches, and nervousness, according to the author.

The devourers in our blood, like invading armies of morality, or mothers or fathers, "poison us with their toxic waste," Kroeger states, although she also manages to offer soothing words of hope.

The book describes a gamut of parasites fairly inaccurately (spirochetes "come from apes"; "all types of cancer cases are afflicted with worms"). It's funny and sad to read through the manic, scary imagery about the little bugs refracted through Kroeger's mind, as well as her recipes for powerful home cures like garlic-eating and milk baths (the worms in your body apparently smell the milk and come wriggling out of your rectum to drink it).

The author's mad obsession with tiny bugs, eggs, and little invading scum, for all its craziness, holds a message. I think these kinds of metaphoric fears are catapulting us into the new millennium: Everyone, nowadays, seems to believe anything in order to express horror, worry, and defiance. What kinds of parasites do you believe in, and where in your body do they live? STACEY LEVINE


edited by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland
(WW. Norton & Co.) $15.95

The introduction to this volume says of formal verse, "The shadow of power lay across it: [It] became a visible part of high civilization; often an ambiguous jewel in the crown of a dominant culture," and claims that "open form [the editors' term for free verse] continues a dialogue" with trad- itional forms rather than replacing them. Having acknowledged form's incidental exclusionary power, the editors excuse themselves to lean the other way and swoon to the beauty of song. Unfortunately they begin with the fustiest of forms: villanelle, sestina, and pantoum, and with the exception of Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night," none of the examples are great. But the volume gets livelier, and better.

The scarier ghosts of form show up in the excerpt from Hart Crane's Modernist epic, The Bridge, which undercuts its brilliance with faux-antique "thees" and "thous." Yeats, Eliot, Stevens, and Rich richly illustrate "open" verse, in what is ironically (or perhaps inevitably, given that this project is a stretch for these late-20th-century poets) the anthology's strongest chapter. Technical points are gently glossed at the end, but the difficult approach to our poetry's long tradition shortens only with a fearless immersion in its sounds, with such defined terms close at hand. It is not through mere experiment, but instead by blundering past everything before the Beats (and being deaf to the beat) that the worst of our grandstanding slam poets produce only prose minus the limitations of sense. GRANT COGSWELL