Michael Jackson opens his autobiography, "Moonwalk," by telling the reader how much he enjoys telling stories. "I'd like to sit by the fire and tell people stories - make them see pictures, make them cry and laugh, take them anywhere emotionally with something as deceptively simple as words."Jackson's life - from 5-year-old singer in the Jackson 5 to a superstar of the '80s - is a great story. Unfortunately, he is not the one to tell it.

He fails in his storytelling on several levels. First, he is not an especially descriptive writer. His sentences are at best simple and at worst dull and indulgent. He writes without humor, telling details or grace. Second, he is not an especially good dramatist, missing opportunities to create a compelling narrative of the truly fascinating episodes in his career. Third, for all the little confessions about himself, the book is self-pitying, contradictory and moonwalks around trickier questions of his personality. In the end, you know him a little more but only in indirect and often pathetic ways.

We get the obvious: about how difficult it is - at times, he carefully adds - growing up so young in show business, about how he is greatly misunderstood by members of the press who just want to make up stories about him to sell newspapers, and time and time and time again how he is simply a perfectionist, the last defense of the egocentric.

"Moonwalk" is not so much a book but an outline for a book. Though it has 283 pages, many are filled with pictures (badly captioned, if at all). The margins are so wide, the type so large and the white space so ample that it seems like you are reading cue cards. There is also no index or discography.

Where were the Doubleday editors in this project? Editor Shaye Areheart, who worked most closely with Jackson, apparently could not tell him that less is sometimes really less.

Co-editor Jacqueline Onassis' much-touted introduction of the book consists of three paragraphs, the first of which begins: "What can one say about Michael Jackson?" Apparently, not much.

If "Moonwalk" were a magazine piece, it would be, at times, diverting reading. But as a much-hyped autobiography - not to mention just good storytelling - it fails to tell us much about who Michael Jackson really is.

The story is still to be told.