L.S. Klepp
August 08, 1997 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Stripper Lessons

Current Status
In Season
John O'Brien

We gave it an A-

John O’Brien’s life often imitated his art, which radiates humiliation and fatalism. In 1994, just when his novel about alcoholism, Leaving Las Vegas, was set to be made into a movie, he shot himself. He was 33, and the suicide came after several near-fatal drinking bouts. In Stripper Lessons, voyeurism fills in for drinking. It’s about a clumsy, shy law clerk who lives alone and has no social life except his nightly trips to Indiscretions, the nude dancing club where he exchanges dollar tips for a few seconds of disdainful attention. He becomes naively obsessed with one of the strippers but sabotages the tenuous connection. The novel ends on an unresolved note; it’s possible O’Brien wasn’t done with it. But the power lies in the tangible, excruciating details, which remind us that a marginal life can very often be a life on the edge. A-

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