LEONARD MICHAELS' TIME OUT OF Mind is a book of revelations culled from 30 years of private diaries. In one particularly memorable entry, stickball and bad fashion are transubstantiated into life-defining metaphors. Michaels describes a boyhood trip to Klein's (a sort of Depression-era K-Mart), where his mother buys him a two-dollar pair of vomit-colored corduroys that whistle as he walks. One day he wears the hated pants to a neighborhood stickball game, and hits one out of the yard: "Above the rage of traffic and my team screaming for me to run, I heard my shoes slap the asphalt and my green pants whistling to first, whistling to second, whistling to third, whistling home. That's my life--good hit, horrible pants."

But who is this Leonard Michaels, with his life of smash and wale? Michaels grabbed the world of letters by the scruff in 1969, with the publication of Going Places, his first collection of short fiction. I Would Have Saved Them If I Could, a second book of stories published six years later, fortified his grip. The former was nominated for a National Book Award. The latter was touted by the New York Times as "an important literary event," and named one of the six outstanding works of fiction of 1975. A younger, hipper Susan Sontag described Michaels' sex-steeped, psychologically demanding fiction as a "dense, ribald, astringent outpouring of pure talent."

So by the not-so-tender age of 42, Michaels, son of a charismatic barber and kvetching mother (Jewish Polish émigrés), son of Manhattan's Lower East Side, had made a seemingly indelible mark in the annals of American literature.

But good luck finding either of these collections at your local book store. Farrar, Straus & Giroux stopped printing them in the mid-'80s.

Michaels' spiral into relative obscurity began, ironically, with his most well-known work: a messy little novel called The Men's Club (or "Last Tango in Berkeley," as one of many disappointed critics dubbed it). Published by FSG in 1981, The Men's Club tells of a home-made encounter session that eventually devolves into wolf-howling, binge-eating, hooker-shagging mayhem. Hollywood, of course, was keenly interested. Michaels himself adapted his novel for the screen, writing and rewriting it over four manic-depressive years. Of his reaction to the rough-cut, he wrote, "Disgrace like internal bleeding seeped from my bones." Paramount released the film in 1985 to Bronx cheers nationwide.

After this fiasco, Michaels needed to reestablish himself on purely literary turf. With the publication of Shuffle (FSG, 1990), his first book in nearly a decade, he did just that. Shuffle is an autobiographical grab bag of gorgeous writing. Most of the book consists of "Journal," a string of stylized entries that describes hermetic worlds where tiny gestures take on huge significance. In one such entry, the hyper-sensitive narrator watches as his lunch date plucks a bite of turkey sandwich from the floor of a diner and pops it in his mouth, and thinks, "I felt that we knew each other. At his funeral... I will cry."

That Michaels was back in the saddle with a (quiet) vengeance was of little interest to literary pundit Anatole Broyard, who blasted Shuffle from his deathbed (he would soon be eaten up by metastatic prostate cancer). In his final piece of criticism for the New York Times, Broyard wrote, "Shuffle is a shockingly bad book... like a man combing his hair in a bathroom mirror, and then inspecting the comb, counting the hairs."

Time out of Mind reads much like Shuffle, which--with all due respect to Mr. Broyard, whose slanderous review was widely understood to be the last gasp of an addled old shit--is a very good thing.

Like all of Michaels' finest work, the pages of this new volume reveal wisdom born out of both abstract meditation and unflinching observation. In one entry, inspired by a scientific discussion of the senses, he writes, "Sensation is channeled and selectively denied by higher centers of the brain. To perceive anything is to deny other things. This suggests the physiological basis of irony. All rhetorical forms probably have a physiological basis."

But Time out of Mind is much more than a slew of quasi-aphorisms. Included are detailed notes for unwritten short stories (most of which Michaels disparages, but many of which seem more than viable). There are cameos by some of today's literary giants: Michaels attends a football practice with a young and restless Tom Stoppard, is interrupted at dinner by a phone call from Mary Karr, who announces that she's "gone east just to seduce famous writers," and dances with Raymond Carver's wife at a party in Cupertino, while Carver, "sodden drunk, gloomy and glowering," watches on ("I said goodnight and drove away," writes Michaels, "I won't be in one of Ray's jealous-husband stories."). And there are even a couple of longish set-pieces, the most memorable an artful but exceedingly disturbing treatment of an abortion gone wrong, starring a partial fetus wrapped in paper towels and a hungry house cat.

As you can see, there's something for everybody here. Like Walt Whitman (and this is likely the only grounds for comparison between the two), Michaels contains multitudes.

God bless the folks at Riverhead for aiding and abetting Leonard Michaels' resurrection. The publication of Time out of Mind, and a soon-to-be-released edition of new and collected stories from Mercury House, will broadcast the voice of Michaels to a new generation.

Let's buy the man a new pair of pants, for Christ's sake.

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