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BAD NEWS OF THE HEART

Douglas Glover

Dalkey Archive

Canadian author Douglas Glover's collection of gloomy, offbeat short stories is well suited to an anxious time typified by belligerent U.S. foreign policy, SARS, and a shaky economy that's forced thousands out of work. Tom, the delusional protagonist of "A Man in a Box," seeks refuge from his shattered marriage inside a cardboard box on a New York street, where he papers the walls with musings inscribed on Post-its. "Indications are that the universe would not have turned out the way it has unless there existed huge amounts of matter as yet unnoticed and unaccounted for," he says. "This missing stuff, the source of mysterious and powerful gravitational forces which shape our destinies, is called dark matter."

Like "Man," other stories in Bad News of the Heart graphically depict the elusiveness of happiness and peace of mind. But Glover skirts monotony by leavening each one with quirky observations and frank sexuality. In the title piece, a former mental patient reveals that he falls in love only when he skips his medication. The self-loathing academics in "Iglaf and Swan" use sex as a physical release rather than an act of love; the Bel Air couple in "A Guide to Animal Behaviour" have a swimming pool with an undertow. In "State of the Nation," a man reeling from a disastrous voyeuristic fling with the woman across the street recalls words spoken by another woman long ago that could have come from many of Glover's creations. "She said," he remembers, "'We are just roadkill on the highway to nowhere.'" --Michael Marsh

BAY OF SOULS

Robert Stone

Houghton Mifflin

In his seventh novel, Bay of Souls, Robert Stone takes the trappings of workshop fiction--academia, adultery, alcohol--and drags them mewling into his own oeuvre, rife with bad faith, personal betrayals, government intrigues, and metaphysical quandaries, foremost among them the yearning for a life more abundant amid the persistence of dread. Borderline-nebbish professor Michael Ahearn strays into a love-and-death affair--complete with Rilke poem--with a colleague who may be a spook, both literally and figuratively. She may have no soul (it's been taken from her by voodoo) and she also may be a government op stranded by the cold war.

The book is small but never slight at 250 pages, though it does seem sketchy next to Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise, and Damascus Gate. It doesn't quite have the size, scope, and heft to sustain Stone's philosophical preoccupations. The early sections, set in the small college town of Fort Salines, seem fresher and in some ways deeper than the climax, which takes place amid the political upheaval of the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Trinity. There, the story sometimes seems received, with tribal drums echoing beyond Flag all the way back to Heart of Darkness. Yet the writing is always taut and clear--the diving sequence is a vintage Stone pulse-pounder--and the ending, its mysticism rooted in tricks of the desperate mind, is apt to startle both Stone's new readers and those who think they know where he's going. It's a lesser Stone novel, but it's of a whole, not abbreviated like Children of Light. In that, it resembles his short fiction while shedding new light on his major works. --Ted Cox

BOTTOM OF THE NINTH: GREAT CONTEMPORARY BASEBALL SHORT STORIES

Edited by John McNally

Southern Illinois University Press

Baseball fiction is at a chronic disadvantage because it is forever overshadowed by the lore provided by the real thing. Bottom of the Ninth counters that problem with compelling stories that highlight universal themes. In Jim Shepard's "Batting Against Castro," a pair of failed American big leaguers play in Cuba as the revolution gains steam. During the game that decides the league championship, Castro takes the mound as a raucous crowd cheers him on. Two stories are harshly critical of the players: In Patricia Highsmith's "The Barbarians," a timid New York painter considers violence when confronted by a bellicose crew of adults who play near his apartment window and destroy his bushes, while Cris Mazza's "Caught" presents a violent sexual encounter between two men, a softball player and a former minor leaguer driven mad by a gay-bashing incident on the field.

In contrast, Jerry Klinkowitz's "Basepaths," in which a former major league player working as a bullpen coach for the Kansas City Royals contemplates the reality of his dashed expectations, provides a compassionate look at an athlete. As he begins to look for a new job after learning the team plans to replace him, Klinkowitz writes: "What a way to end what should have been a dream career....Now, as August ends, he's down to just two options: college coaching and minor league managing." Such explorations of competition, failure, and violence should speak to anyone, regardless of their interest in baseball. --Michael Marsh

THE BULLET COLLECTION

Patricia Sarafian Ward

Graywolf Press

Patricia Sarafian Ward's debut novel, The Bullet Collection, follows Marianna, a young woman raised dur-ing the Lebanese civil war who has since emigrated to the United States. Ward, who was born in Beirut in 1969 and moved to the U.S. in 1988, deftly weaves Marianna's reminiscences at age 18 with scenes from her childhood in Lebanon, raising questions about who will survive the war and, in a sense, what survival even means. As the family carries on with daily life in Beirut, Marianna's sister, Alaine, drifts in and out of sanity, seeking out soldiers and refugees and hunting down the gas masks, uniforms, grenades, and bullets she uses to decorate her small, dark room in the last of a series of homes to which they've moved trying to escape the fighting. And as the family carries on with daily life in America, Marianna reconstructs her memories of Beirut with little help or interest from her family.

Populated with vivid characters--Uncle Ara, who cons his way past patrols to buy vegetables; Mrs. Awad, a mothering neighbor whose husband has disappeared; Ziad, a family friend who dreams of running a disco--the novel depicts a romantic vision of a home by the sea that is appealing even as it falls apart. Using fragments of memory and avoiding hard facts until a critical moment, Ward captures the mystery of war, how it just shows up one day and keeps getting worse, and how difficult it is to reconcile the motives of war with any national or religious ideology. --Heidi Broadhead

DEVIL'S MIDNIGHT

Yuri Kapralov

Akashic Books

Akashic heavily edited this satanic thriller by Russian exile Yuri Kapralov, who took decades to write it in the first place. Credit the hard-won material, the refinement, or both--the effort's worth all the trees that were ripped down to print it. Set against the gruesome 1919 war between the Bolsheviks and the White Russians, the punchy Devil's Midnight barrels lucidly through nightmares with relentless narrative drive. The players here are mad locomotives and even madder drug-guzzling field commanders; witches searching for a meteorite on the orders of a quaint Russian devil called the Chort; and the dry, canny voice of irony that slips out in lines like "I have nothing against Satan or Samson. This is all a slight misunderstanding." The characters are vivid; even the femme fatale--actress Nata Tai, who is trained to serve the Chort but turns to killing witches--has a resonant, aching soul. As the strands of the narrative come together, it's clear that Nata and the Chort are the leads in a slick, dank tragedy that unfolds with unsettlingly deliberate power. Humans crazed by strain are terrifying to watch. But damn can some of them scrawl a warning. Next time, can we please keep the elections clean? After this, a civil war doesn't sound like any fun whatsoever. --Ann Sterzinger

AN EVENING AT THE CLUB

Christian Gailly

Translated by Susan Fairfield

Other Press

A best-seller in France last year, An Evening at the Club is Christian Gailly's 11th novel, though only the second to be translated into English. The slim volume tells the story of Simon Nardis, a middle-aged Parisian industrial-heating technician who used to be a well-known jazz pianist and an alcoholic. For years he's avoided places where music is played--places where people drink--to save his marriage and his health. Then one night, against his better judgment, he's drawn into a nightclub where a jazz trio is playing, and the atmosphere affects him like "a long, slow inhalation of poison." He drinks; he plays. While intermittently thinking of his wife back home, Simon is also intoxicated by the club's owner, an American singer, and she's attracted to him as well. Gailly, a former psychotherapist and jazz musician himself, has a painter friend of Simon's narrate the story of Simon's struggle with the triple temptations of music, liquor, and love; the result is light and conversational, as if the story's being told to you over drinks at a bar. --Jerome Ludwig

EXQUISITE CORPSE

Robert Irwin

Overlook Press

To die-hard weirdos like the narrator of Exquisite Corpse, the doldrums are so unfamiliar they're actually exotic and desirable. Caspar belongs to an occasionally successful artists' collective dedicated to the pursuit of surrealism. In search of "the Marvel-lous"--an acute loss, reversal, or transcendence of the senses as they know them--the group dabbles in opiates, mesmerism, seances, alcohol, observation, psychoanalysis, orgies, and death. The one thing they never go near is politics. Then, after a chance meeting during one of his experiments in perception (having a friend lead him blindfolded through the city, telling him a bunch of lies), Caspar falls in love with Caroline, a perfectly ordinary typist who eventually annoys almost all his friends with naive questions about art and literature. His rabid obsession with the woman's simplicity causes him to ignore her complexities, driving her away forever, and he later decides to write a book in order to find her.

Exquisite Corpse is set mostly in London before and during World War II. Caspar comes to discover that surrealism and fascism share a common goal--"to encounter the Irrational"--and that perhaps as an artist he should've embraced from the start the one thing he flat out rejected. Written in a way that confuses and captivates, the book leaves the reader unclear as to what's real in Caspar's mind and in his life, what's real in history, and why all of us, even the most out-there, are in search of an anchor. --Liz Armstrong

THE FABULIST

Stephen Glass

Simon & Schuster

In 1998 young hotshot magazine wri-ter Stephen Glass was fired from his job at the New Republic for committing the most heinous of journalistic sins: making shit up. Soon discovered to have fabricated incidents, people, and even documents and Web sites more than once in his brief but prolific career, the 25-year-old swiftly passed into infamy, the subject of innumerable op-eds and essays on the peculiar nature of his crimes, their impact on the enterprise of journalism, the precarious relationship of fiction to truth telling, the performance anxiety of careerist wunderkinder, the pathology of lying, and so on. For his part Glass has remained silent--until now, with the publication of his odd and oddly compelling mea culpa, The Fabulist.

It's impossible to review The Fabulist as a novel, even though it claims to be one, in stark black type, right in the middle of its snow-white dust jacket. It's the story of a young hotshot writer--named Stephen Glass--who's ignominiously fired from his job at a Washington magazine, of his consequent disgrace and abasement, and of his inevitable stab at redemption. It seems unlikely to be picked up by anyone not already familiar with the author's bio; for those who are, the first half of the book (the part that draws on events in the public record) will read as a perverse, if idly amusing, roman a clef. It's fun to match the thinly disguised characters to their real-life counterparts (ooh, look--there's Leon Wieseltier!), but when Glass moves on to his off-the-record life, the game ends. He comes to understand his lies as symptomatic of a desperate need to be liked at all costs, but can't make the critical step of apologizing to the friends and colleagues he's wronged (any apology at all would be too little too late, he rationalizes). Rather, as he tries to put his life back together, the action becomes increasingly overblown and cinematic: he's stalked by a rabid reporter, he seeks counsel from a kindly rabbi, he falls in love with a girl with secrets in her own dark past.

Is this what really happened? Who knows? Glass has pulled off a neat trick: the hall of mirrors created by this memoir-cum-novel-cum-memoir may protect him forever from the charge that he can't tell the truth.

--Martha Bayne

HEREDITY

Jenny Davidson

Soft Skull Press

"Even anatomy can express tragedy," muses Elizabeth Mann, the affectless protagonist of Jenny Davidson's debut novel, Heredity, while gazing at the deformed skeletons of conjoined Bengali twins in a London museum. The book is a strange, spectacular combination: part literary detective story, part Jurassic Park-meets-Frankenstein bildungsroman. When twentysomething Elizabeth accepts a travel-writing assignment in London, it stirs up both her scientific curiosity and her personal demons. As her obsession with cloning and morbid medical antiquities grows, so does her struggle to differentiate herself from her father, a prominent American infertility surgeon. She discovers an 18th-century manuscript by another Elizabeth Mann, the wife of a famous criminal named Jonathan Wild, and--consumed by the tale of Wild's life--enlists her married lover, a colleague of her father's, to impregnate her using DNA cloned from Wild's skeleton.

Davidson, a Columbia University English professor, is given to short, exquisitely clear sentences that convey volumes in very few words. Eating dinner with her lover, Elizabeth watches with detachment as he inhales a plate of mushrooms. "I am attracted by the precision of his greed," she states flatly. Hours later, without preamble, she seduces him in his office in 24 unadorned lines that read like something Fitzgerald might have crafted. Heredity is one of the first works of fiction from New York-based punk-rock press Soft Skull, which made its name publishing avant-garde poetry and the controversial George W. Bush biography Fortunate Son, and it's an unlikely, surprisingly rich tale of sex, death, parents, mortality, and history.

--Meredith Broussard

INDIGENOUS: GROWING UP CALIFORNIAN

Cris Mazza

City Lights

The first few chapters of novelist Cris Mazza's memoir--the anecdotal scrapbook of a child reared in TV-land's dream destination, California--are great. Mazza, who teaches in the Program for Writers at UIC, employs a gift for vivid imagery to tell tales of life with her parents, who got paid peanuts to teach stars' kids at a private school and boosted their standard of living by hunting, gathering, and gardening in the lush, presubdivided landscape of the far west in the 60s and early 70s. Mazza grew up a tomboy with a passel of siblings, and throughout the book she is determined to prove that California girls aren't all vapid Barbara Anns.

But once her story hits the 80s, her obsession with training show dogs starts the boredom ball rolling, and when we plod through a failed marriage--she tied a too-patient fellow to monogamy despite the fact that she finds sex painful--the story becomes both dull and unsympathetic. Her actions are understandable: getting hitched was the "thing one did," and Mazza explains that she assumed the magic ring would suddenly make her receptive to her stud. But is that the kind of premise you'd gamble someone else's happiness on? And once you'd done such a thing, wouldn't you keep the blow by blow--and apologies--private?

Structured as a series of unrelated essays, the narrative flashes fore and aft so often you could skip the middle (or the last two-thirds) and still get a coherent story. I would've enjoyed hearing more about the California that Mazza used to know--not just her family life but the socioeconomic changes going on around her. Instead I began to feel like I'd stumbled into a stranger's therapy session. And while the honest writer certainly hacks up the dirt, her warts just aren't as interesting as her freckles.

--Ann Sterzinger

MCSWEENEY'S MAMMOTH TREASURY OF THRILLING TALES

Edited by Michael Chabon

Vintage

Cognizant of its surroundings, if nothing else, novelist Dave Eggers's McSweeney's Publishing franchise has lent its stamp to the "waitaminnit, maybe genre fiction isn't just for subnormals" critical trend. One's initial impression of the Treasury, a fat paperback wad of not-quite-pulp paper stock crammed with short formula works and bold but corny faux-vintage graphics by Howard Chaykin, is that someone should point out to the publishers that genre fiction didn't die when pseudointellectuals started ignoring it.

Fortunately, most of the contributors--including genre full-timers like Michael Crichton and Harlan Ellison--offer modern stories. While Crichton's "Blood Doesn't Come Out"--it's supposed to be noir?--flops, and Stephen King's buffoonish attempt at futuristic cowboy lingo made me scratch my head, Ellison's "Goodbye to All That" is a nimble philosophical turn with a sweet punch line. Most of the stories are much more fun than the average McSweeney's fare, and some are even inspiring: Nebula and World Fantasy Award winner Kelly Link turns in a fairy tale, "Catskin," that's chilling and meaty with a nasty edge. And the Dave himself? Though written in his signature leaden, repetitive style and fixed on the standard themes of meaninglessness, emptiness, and rich, white guilt, Eggers's "Up the Mountain Coming Down Slowly" has an actual payoff. The successes here don't strain to mess with the forms of fiction--they focus on prose and plot and let the experimental seep in where it may. There's going to be a second volume; hopefully they'll call in more of the sci-fi crowd. --Ann Sterzinger

A MILLION LITTLE PIECES

James Frey

Doubleday

At the start of his much-hyped memoir of addiction, James Frey is 23 years old, hooked on crack and booze, banged up from a nasty fall, and saddled with an extremely bad attitude. Addictive in its own right, the book carries the reader through his painful, gruesome, and often unbelievable process of recovery. (Would you ever have four teeth capped and two root canals with no anesthetic? Frey says he did.) Reading like an epic journal entry, the story flashes back to his privileged childhood and wild but lonely teenage years from his bed at the expensive rehab clinic (Hazelden, though unnamed in the book) to which his parents have committed him. His supporting characters include a west-coast mobster, a boxing champ, and--as his forbidden love interest--a recovering crack whore.

It's the strength of Frey's story, rather than his writing, that will keep you up until 4 AM racing to the finish. His repetitive prose is annoying and quickly becomes ineffective. His editor looked the other way on grammar; half the text consists of run-ons or fragments, and the dialogue is rendered without quotation marks. But given Frey's persistent badass demeanor, it usually isn't too hard to figure out when he's running off at the mouth. Despite its clear weaknesses, the story still inspires because throughout, perhaps more out of a disdain for authority than his lack of belief in a higher power, Frey openly shuns the 12 steps that everyone around him insists are key to his recovery. Instead, determined to do it his way, he sets out to prove that sometimes all you have to do to survive is make a decision--and stick to it. --Kamilah Duggins

MR. SHOW: WHAT HAPPENED?

Naomi Odenkirk

Squaresville Books

God gave us hangovers, so the nerd world needs Mr. Show: What Happened?, a loving, self-published chronicle of the low-budget, late-night HBO comedy breakout of David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, and crew. The first half of the book is interviews and history; the author, Odenkirk's wife, Naomi, seems to have profiled every writer and actor ever involved. Tales of seat-of-the-pants production mishaps sound Tromavillian; the chapter "Writing the Show," however, makes it clear that despite the near-improv feel (most contributors were culled from alternative stand-up or improv scenes, and Bob Odenkirk studied under ImprovOlympic Zeus Del Close), the episodes depended on meticulously written scripts. The episode guides that fill the second half, however, are great comfort reading. Naomi interrogated Bob and David to find how they made each scene work; the results combine glimpses into the writing process with capsules of each sketch that reproduce the fun of watching the laugh lines for the first time. Though it's big and purty enough to pass for a coffee-table book, this one has already earned an honored spot on my bathroom floor. --Ann Sterzinger

MYGALE

Thierry Jonquet

Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith

(City Lights)

If you could dig up the Marquis de Sade and teach him to write a damn plot, you might get something like Mygale, by French noir novelist Thierry Jonquet. Usually when sex and sadism are slapped together--especially by an avowed leftist like Jonquet--you can assume sleep is going to come before you finish the first page. But Mygale's a fresh, fast read.

Though he calls his genre "society's mirror," Jonquet's annoyed by overtly political (and artistically inept) French intellectual writers. "I don't write tracts," he said in a recent on-line interview. "It's easy and facile to draw a brave little disenfranchised character who's going to solve all the world's problems." Jonquet cooks his conceits while obsessively consuming true-crime tales in newspapers and tabloids; his stories are meant to purge the emotional horror of life in a random, violent world. He wrote his first novel, a police procedural called Le bal des debris, when he realized the morbidly depressing nursing home he was working in would be the perfect setting for a horrible crime.

The fine-tuned narrative of the slim Mygale--named after a nasty genus of tropical spider--lives and dies by the curiosity it provokes, so it'd be sinful to ruin any of the plot. If you like your thrillers glittery and sexy, welcome to Jonquet's chamber of bourgeois torture. Even the occasional flat character serves his purpose and bogs nothing down. The translation goes down like honey; Donald Nicholson-Smith even does some slick cultural decoding, flagging Carrefour, for example, as a supermarket chain. But when there are enough contextual clues for a reasonably intelligent reader to follow, he just steps back and lets Jonquet flow.

--Ann Sterzinger

NALDA SAID

Stuart David

Turtle Point Press

Narrated in a mannered, delusional first-person voice, claustrophobic in scope, and written by a founding member of Belle and Sebastian, Nalda Said could've been supremely irritating. Thankfully, he was only the bass player. Stuart David's nameless protagonist, nicknamed "Renard," is a modern gypsy who gardens for a living and thinks he was force-fed a stolen jewel as a baby and that it's still slowly navigating his bowels. If he can poop it out before someone slits him open to steal it--and people are so greedy, he figures, anybody who knows it's there will do so--the rock will deliver him to a life of leisure. In other words, he doesn't have a lot of friends--in fact, if anyone tries to have a personal conversation with him, he skips town as fast as he can run to the train station. Eventually, though, three coworkers take him under their wing; they agree that there's something of value inside the sensitive young man, but they don't think it's material. Renard, however, insists that his "specialness" can only be found by going over his morning dump with a magnifying glass. Stuart is a careful, effective tragedist--Renard's maddening paranoia and self-absorption serve not to destroy sympathy for him but to steer the tone clear of melodrama. Raised by a crazy old lady in an isolated shack after his father was killed by fellow jewel thieves, he's understandably a bit confused about the world. Can a nominal adult be excused for remaining a lost child, or is Renard a selfish artiste manque with a spiritual learning disability? Nalda Said's frustrating ending leaves it to the reader to decide. --Ann Sterzinger

THE POOH PERPLEX: A FRESHMAN CASEBOOK

Frederick Crews

University of Chicago Press

Huzzah to U. of C. Press for getting The Pooh Perplex back in print. Just months ago it was nearly impossible to get your paws on the classic collection of lit-crit parodies whose 2001 sequel, Postmodern Pooh, served to make used copies of the 1963 original scarcer than ever. These send-ups of academic essays will reward anyone who's ever left a college English department in disgust (or thought about it) with evil, healing laughter. Both works use the same form: a fictional gang of pedantic, joyless professors turn their critical guns on A.A. Milne's children's stories. Footnotes cite texts by real-world culprits such as Judith Butler and Jacques Lacan; representative surrogates--like Das Nuffa Dat, the oppressed Indian aristocrat, Dolores Malatesta, who's convinced that Piglet's passive behavior marks him as a rape victim, and Karl Anschauung, MD, who justifies his every opinion with badly translated quotes from Freud--make themselves ridiculous, says Crews, not by sticking to their theories but by "confusing them with reality itself."

In the foreword to the new edition of The Pooh Perplex, Crews, a retired English professor, admits he tossed his most popular book off as a grad-school diversion and mailed it blind to Milne's American publisher. He was amazed that it ever got printed. My (younger) generation is said to prefer the sequel, as the fashionable theories on display are familiar enough to hate. Indeed, when I cracked Perplex, only the Marxist parody was immediately recognizable, and that was at first glance my favorite piece. But upon reread it's clear that Crews wasn't just taking clever potshots at intellectual enemies: he's whipped out hilarious archetypes of human foibles.

--Ann Sterzinger

READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN: A MEMOIR IN BOOKS

Azar Nafisi

Random House

Midway through Lolita, the title character realizes that at 12 she's been orphaned, raped, and kidnapped. That, says Azar Nafisi, is what it feels like to live under a fundamentalist Islamic regime. Nafisi taught American literature at the University of Tehran until she was dismissed in 1981 for refusing to wear the traditional veil; after that she started a secret class for seven women students at her home. What Humbert did to his flesh fantasy, she argues, Khomeini did to Nafisi and her students. He took their world, their choices, their lives--especially those of women.

Nafisi, who now teaches at Johns Hopkins, looks back at her life during the Islamic revolution in her memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran. In spite of the oppression of the time, she remembers it with love and a deep, joyful passion for the people who got her through the nightmare: Nabokov, Fitzgerald, Austen, and James. Empathy for people real or fictional, says Nafisi, is not just the key to fulfilling reading but can be a path to freedom. In empathy, she reads Lolita for the perspective of the girl. Just as Humbert is about to snatch his prey away from summer camp, he notices a bully has driven a needle through a butterfly and impaled it on the wall where it remains alive. Nabokov's evocation of this vision--needle trapping helpless creature--became for Nafisi the light at the end of the tunnel. --Kevin Allison

SOUND OF THE BEAST: THE COMPLETE HEADBANGING HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL

Ian Christe

HarperCollins

As a rule, books about metal come in two types: band encyclopedias with little to no social context, and books so full of social context they threaten to make it possible to forget that the object of discussion is music. But Sound of the Beast, written by a journalist and fan who's been covering the scene since the 80s, bucks the trend, speaking to general readers as interested in the sounds as the silly controversies. The book's greatest weakness is a tendency to slip into the instantly recognizable purple prose of the rock critic flummoxed by having to come up with hundreds of different ways to describe the violence of the ineffable: I have great sympathy with Christe's struggle to explain exactly how one Morbid Angel album is more "punishing" or "savage" than its predecessor when he's already used his best superlatives back in the chapter on Black Sabbath.

The book's greatest value is its broad perspective--stereotypes of sheltered white boys using metal to vent their rage at mommy fall away nicely as Christe discusses the prolific and passionate metal undergrounds of eastern Europe, Latin America, and southeast Asia; he also sketches a Middle East scene in which Israeli and Arab metal bands snipe at each other through their own blasphemous takes on ancient religions. And his detailed picture of the delicate interplay between major-label commercialism and indie cred in the metal world of the 80s and 90s is a nice cold bath for the college radio kids who thought they held the monopoly on such talk. But I love this book most because even in the dreaded Norwegian black metal chapter, the music still gets more play than the murder and arson.

--Monica Kendrick

THE SPOKEN WORD REVOLUTION: SLAM, HIP HOP & THE POETRY OF A NEW GENERATION

Edited by Mark Eleveld; advised by Marc Smith

Sourcebooks

The Spoken Word Revolution bombards readers with thumbnail histories of artists embodying the best of hip-hop, performance art, and poetry competitions from its very first page. The overview will no doubt be helpful to the uninitiated, but the meat of the book addresses the history of Chicago slam competitions, which poet Marvin Bell attributes to "the casual brilliance of Marc Smith."

Smith, who started the slams here in 1986 and who still hosts the Sunday night competitions at the Green Mill, says the movement began as his response to listening to one boring poet too many at open-mike readings. Though heavily weighted toward the Chicago scene, this volume, edited by Joliet high school teacher Mark Eleveld and "advised" by Smith, includes the work of a wide range of spoken-word poets from academic grandfathers to 12-year-olds. The poems sing like manifestos, broad strokes honoring Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, and Miles Davis and addressing themselves to the universe, man- and womankind, or America. Eleveld and Smith have mixed anecdotes about early poetry competitions with critical essays from poet-academics, helping to contextualize spoken word and performance within the larger critical sphere of poetry.

The book comes with a 75-minute CD of performance poetry narrated by Smith that captures the performers' style and musicality. The junior-high-textbook design may turn some readers off, but this book lends an important critical and aesthetic perspective to an emerging art form that, perhaps because of its popularity and democratic nature, has often been discounted by the academy. --Heidi Broadhead

WESTERFIELD'S CHAIN

Jack Clark

St. Martin's

Fans of the hard-boiled detective novel will welcome the debut of Nick Acropolis in Jack Clark's first mystery, Westerfield's Chain. All the hallmarks of the genre are present and accounted for, starting with the lone wolf protagonist who operates according to an idiosyncratic but clearly defined moral code. Once a Chicago policeman, Acropolis was invited to leave the force because he wouldn't testify against his ex-partner, who compromised him by breaking the law in his presence. He has a taste for late hours and frequents a bar that has his drink ready before he orders. His offbeat attractiveness appeals to the ladies, and his offbeat sense of humor makes the story an enjoyable read.

The book's title refers to a drugstore chain, the owner of which is missing. When an investigation to clear a cop of wrongdoing takes Acropolis to one of the drugstores, he crosses paths with the founder's daughter and she hires him to find her father. Clark takes Acropolis from the west side to the North Shore as he weaves the disparate threads into an intriguing and believable story. A Chicago taxi driver (and occasional Reader contributor), Clark knows his city: the geography and flavor of the neighborhoods are vividly presented, and interesting, often quirky characters are introduced along the fascinating ride. --Lynn Baumhardt

WHEN LUBA LEAVES HOME

Irene Zabytko

Algonquin

Luba Vovkovych is fed up with her life; she's sick of Ukrainian Village, sick of the garrulous babas who know her every move, and sick of her unpronounceable name. She wants more than anything to shed her identity as a DP, or displaced person, and be a bona fide American--which to her, in 1968, means calling herself Linda, buying a Plymouth Valiant, and going braless. Irene Zabytko's When Luba Leaves Home, a series of related short stories narrated by the restless, impatient Luba in a frank, conversational tone punctuated by anyways and stupid jerks, captures the tension and confusion between immigrant parents and their eagerly assimilating children. Though Zabytko's prose is understated, the stories pack surprising emotional force. The author, who was herself once young and restless in Ukrainian Village, is particularly skilled at evoking the close community of the old--the DPs who remember where they came from even though they're desperately trying to forget the pain associated with it. Shabby old men "bewildered by America" gather at the local bar after work to tell and retell sorrowful stories of Ukraine, batty old ladies in faded housedresses fall in love, and the well-meaning if self-absorbed kids struggle to reconcile the equally powerful pulls of family and freedom. In "Obligation," beautiful Khrystia tries in vain to connect with the mad old bag lady who, once upon a time, took care of her in a Russian-run DP camp; in "Lavender Soap," Luba's erratic, cranky boss, also an immigrant, is softened by a whiff of the soap she used to hoard to rid herself of the smell of hard labor. As the thread that ties Zabytko's stories together, good girl Luba's attempts to sort out her own competing desires provide a refreshing, unsentimental look at a neighborhood and population at a point of almost convulsive change. --Martha Bayne

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