THE METHOD ACTORS, by Carl Shuker. Washington, D.C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005, 512 pp., $16 (paper).

There has been a great deal of discussion and debate about where literary modernism ends and postmodernism begins. The confusion arises in part because, far from being something entirely different than the modernism that came before it, postmodernism has appropriated many of the techniques employed by the modernists, including, most fruitfully, collage.

Modernists and postmodernists, however, treat the pieces that make up their collages differently. The canonical modernists hoped that they could bring coherence to their fragments by undergirding them with myth, symbol, and rigorous formal systems.

The postmodernists, on the other hand, seem to prefer, having assembled a pile of compelling bits, to leave them in a more or less disorderly pile. The disorderly world in which we live being what it is, this may be a more honest approach than the modernists' insistence that the world's chaos is only apparent, that underneath it is a coherence just waiting for an artist of genius to illuminate it. Whether postmodernism yields more satisfying art, however, is another question, one that Carl Shuker's first novel, "The Method Actors," puts us in a position, if not to answer, at least to consider.