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"Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys"

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Will Self is so smart he tends to be lazy, writing books about premises rather than about people. In Cock & Bull, people grow new genitals. In Great Apes, evolution goes in reverse. Several of the stories in Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys (Grove; $23) suffer from this cleverer-than-thou syndrome. In "Flytopia," a misanthropic graduate student aligns himself with the insects infesting his cottage, who then devour his nagging girlfriend. But in "The Nonce Prize," the novella that ends the book, Self manages to stop being so high-concept. His crackhead hero, Danny, is trying to win a short-story contest -- his ticket out of prison for a child-sex crime he didn't commit. The stakes are high, the descriptions of Danny's real-nonce (Brit-speak for "pedophile") competitors disturbing, and Danny's new-found way with words believable. Self jolts his jaded soul into something resembling feeling.


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