Bathers, Robert Steiner. (New York: New Directions, 1980).
Review by Jack Charters
This is a beautifully executed novel, drawing upon the barest of materials, life seen through a crack in the door. Without the world "out there" to write about, Steiner depends with an absolute confidence upon an invented narrator, a Sadean masochist whose lyric air sustains the book in a kind of style that says everything and nothing. Few facts in the book are made clear or are meant to be. Its teller is a gardener (of sorts) living in some desolate, politically
terrorized "subtropical" ...country. The man gives his wife to his young "apprentice," listens to their bedroom noises, peeps at them in pleasure and loathing.
While they victimize and humiliate him, he does the same to them, caging them in the bizarre menagerie of his imagination. While they fornicate, he tunes in his radio. ...But it is the book's unreal style that gives the novel its deeply sinister, claustrophobic, insane quality. The "story" and the characters are the product of and only of the style that Steiner has here invented. Change either the language, the syntax or the rhythm, and you change the entire book. Its themes would become other themes. And if that's true, then we have here a novel in which the contents are the formal elements. Fortunately, the novel does not fade into allegory or symbol, a movement that would have destroyed the very effects that Steiner so delicately executes. ...In other words, there is no overly of "meaning" that controls the book; the narrator has such a tendency, the author does not.... [Jack Charters, The Review of Contemporary Fiction]