Margot Mifflin
September 13, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

By the Shores of Gitchee Gumee

Current Status
In Season
Tama Janowitz

We gave it a C-

It’s been 10 years since Tama Janowitz’s Slaves of New York burst onto the literary scene. Now comes By the Shores of Gitchee Gumee. Billed as satire, it functions less as a send-up of crass American culture than a symptom of it. Following the Slivenowicz family from their tumbledown trailer in an unnamed state to a beach house in Malibu, Calif., it’s a rags-to-riches story that crosses The Beverly Hillbillies with Pink Flamingoes.

The thrills start when a propane leak causes the Slivenowicz trailer to explode. Homeless and destitute, they make their way west by stealing cars and duping anyone foolish enough to tangle with them. Their adventures are punctuated with inane discussions of pimples, clothes, and makeup, and by jeering asides about fat people and Alzheimer’s disease.

But Janowitz seems to believe that a harebrained story starring irretrievably stupid characters constitutes parody. The reader is expected to laugh at lines like ”Did one of you guys, like, make a doody in your pants or something?” And the author’s observation that America is ”some paved-over shopping mall” where ”spots of rare beauty are for the rich people who can afford to buy them” isn’t exactly trenchant. Even judged by the sitcom standards it aspires to, Gitchee Gumee is pretty thin stuff. C-

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