Gilbert Rogin L. E. Sissman - Essay

L. E. Sissman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The odd thing about "What Happens Next?" is that it's almost not a novel at all…. [The chapters of the novel, first published as a series of stories,] still retain a shade of the disjunctiveness of individual stories, the more so since they vary widely in form and experimental technique. But the intensity of Rogin's central vision and the virtuosity of his prose are such that they cohere and build more surely, perhaps, than a formal, one-piece novel could have done….

[The first chapter] seems to contain echoes of Salinger (New York apartment-dwellers' family life), Bellow (the decedent melancholy of Verdi Square), Roth (the loneliness of the long-distance loser), and especially Perelman (surreal, hilarious conversations among television types). But in the second chapter, a blow-by-verbal-blow description of Singer's strangled relations with his second wife, the book begins to become something far richer and stranger than any mere comic account of city life….

[Tours] de force of technique conjure up the cast of characters not in one but in many incarnations. People who first appear as near stereotypes, though brilliantly rendered ones, like Singer's parents (his mother, by a feat of perfect pitch, stands revealed by her conversation as the spokesman of her pompous, comfortable, sure generation), mutate under shifting circumstances and viewpoints into the unassailable mysteries all people really are. Characters...

(The entire section is 476 words.)