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Steps Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The narrator is a young man who travels from place to place experiencing life in its rawest form. In a small village, he shows his credit cards to a young orphaned woman who washes and mends his clothes and tells her that she will never need money again if she comes with him. She follows him to the city to find a better life for herself and trades sex with him for money. The situation is reversed when he finds himself in a strange city without money and has to trade sex for food.

As a ski instructor in an area close to a tuberculosis sanatorium, he makes love to a woman patient through mirrors; the two never touch. An encounter with a woman at a zoo leads to the narrator’s picking up another woman, who turns out to be a male transvestite. A waiter at a train-station restaurant arranges for the narrator to attend a show where a woman and a large unidentified animal copulate while observers place bets as to the depth of penetration.

A grouping of anecdotes about the army includes stories in which two civilians are killed by a sniper, a group of soccer players disappear when they drive across an artillery practice field, and soldiers play a macho gambling game for entertainment. Punishment for a man who cheats in the game is to have his genitals crushed to a pulp between rocks.

The narrator remembers events that occurred during World War II but were not army experiences. As a boy, he was boarded out with farmers who mistreated him. He got revenge by enticing their children to swallow concealed fishhooks and broken glass, which killed them. A cemetery caretaker he knew had been a boxer before being put into a Nazi concentration camp; his captors let him survive so that he could entertain them by fighting with professionals, but the rules were such that no one wanted to fight against him.

When the narrator was a student at the university, he heard about a scientist who at a Communist Party reception pinned gold condoms on every guest instead of medals. At one time the narrator was banished to an agricultural settlement, where he met a circus contortionist who could do sexy things with her body. As editor of the university newspaper, he was assisted by a girl who took pictures of herself nude. He stole some of the pictures and showed them to people. When the girl died a natural death, everyone assumed that she had committed suicide in shame because he had displayed lewd pictures of her.

Among the narrator’s stories about sexual force being used against women are descriptions of a gang rape in a city park; of farmers in a village who keep an enslaved woman in a cage high up in a barn, and men who want to use her lower the cage with a rope; and of a friend whom the narrator enlists to help him have sex with a woman who has spurned him.

The narrator tells of senseless killings. Butterflies in a jar are killed slowly as their supply of oxygen is exhausted with burning matches. Empty beer bottles murder a factory watchman. An innocent bystander is beheaded in a “book-knock-off” driving game, in which cars drive close to parked cars that have books attached to them.

When the narrator leaves his original country, he wears a silvery Siberian wolf coat that is totally unsuitable for his new life. Unemployed and destitute, he gets a job chipping paint and rust from a ship, but his fur coat becomes stiff and heavy with paint, and at night the fumes nauseate him. He is fired from the job and takes another parking cars in a parking lot. He becomes involved in a protection racket that victimizes his fellow immigrants. From there he goes into truck driving.

As he tries to adjust to his new city, he sees black people living in poor areas where there is no future, but he envies them their freedom. He wishes that he could make his own skin dark so that he could not be seen at night. Then he could kill the rich, destroy the city, and put bent nails on highways to crash cars. That might destroy his dream of having material things, and it might drive...

(The entire section is 1,550 words.)