Americans love being on camera. But what if we never saw the camera, yet knew we were being filmed? What if we were being set up for some...

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“Hidden Camera”
by Zoran Zivkovic, translated by Alice-Copple Tosic
Dalkey Archive Press,
217 pp., $13.95

Americans love being on camera. But what if we never saw the camera, yet knew we were being filmed? What if we were being set up for some elaborate prank? How would we react?

“Hidden Camera” opens with a nameless man coming home from work to find a blank white envelope stuck in his door. Inside the envelope is a movie ticket for a screening of a film that evening at 6 p.m. He goes to the theater. All the seats are empty, except for one, which is occupied by a very attractive woman.

The movie starts. It’s a movie about him, sitting on a park bench.

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So begins an evening of slowly rising paranoia as the narrator travels through different neighborhoods of Belgrade, playing himself in a game of bafflement and desire.

Zoran Zivkovic is one of Serbia’s most talented contemporary writers. His novella “The Library” won the 2003 World Fantasy Award. Like Jorge Luis Borges, he can create strange, alternate universes. Like David Lynch, he can balance menace and melancholy — be cruel and be funny at the same time.

Zivkovic’s lonely hero is a mortician. He has no friends; his pets are fish. He is totally unremarkable except in his stubborn resolve to maintain his dignity in the most bizarre circumstances.

Here he is in the city zoo after caged monkeys have assaulted him with all sorts of flying objects:

“I endured the barrage stoically, even though very few shots missed me. When the monkeys ran out of ammunition, I got up out of the chair, slowly removed the bits that had stuck to me, bowed curtly towards the cage and headed along the path towards the exit.”

“Hidden Camera” is a bit too long. And the story sometimes feels like a metaphysical Choose Your Own Adventure book, which, I guess, is part of its dark, mysterious charm.