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Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Ernie Longmire, Todd Gibson, Blake de Pastino, Chris Romero

FEBRUARY 16, 1998: 

Two-Fisted Science
by Jim Ottaviani, et al. (General Tektronics Labs, paper, $10)

Writer Jim Ottaviani has enlisted a wide selection of alternative comics artists to illustrate this collection of true tales of scientists from Galileo to Oppenheimer. These are character studies, not study guides, so there's nothing in here that'll get you through first-year physics. But don't worry kids, you still might learn something. The best stories in the book are the five taken from the life and career of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, including two long pieces on his unique relationship with his first wife and his exploits as Los Alamos' unauthorized chief cat burglar during the Manhattan Project. For the uninitiated, these stories make it clear why Feynman's wit and engaging personality helped his impact extend further into popular culture than probably any scientist since Einstein. Two romance-tinged anecdotes from the lives of Wolfgang Pauli and Hans Bethe are also wonderful--and I bet you'll never see those names in the same sentence as the words "romance-tinged" again. Pester the local comics pushers to clear some space in between Dr. Reed Richards and Dr. Bruce Banner to stock more work like this. (EL)

Call Me
by P-P Hartnett (St. Martins, paper, $12)

P-P Hartnett conducted extensive research for his first novel. He posted ads for a fictional Bike Boy in London's gay press, met with 200 or so respondents, catalogued the results, changed some names and had his book. Call Me follows Liam, an unemployed photographer, who uses the responses to the Bike Boy ad to "feed upon and be fed into the dreams of the not-so-nice one-timers." An intriguing premise, promising a voyeuristic trip into the underside of London's gay culture, but the book turns into a series of rancorous attacks on the people who answer Liam's ad. Hartnett hopes to show that Liam's anger is merely a front masking a sensitive male pining for his lost lover, but the bloody details of Liam's violent fantasies are too heartfelt to be anything but a mean-spirited attack on the personal ad culture. I imagine that writing the book was cathartic; but absent of any hint of redemption, it's ultimately only a journey into the dark side of Liam's soul. Not for the weak of heart. (TG)

The Lusty Lady
by Erika Langley (Scalo, paper, $34.95)

In 1992, young photographer Erika Langley set out for Seattle to shoot a documentary about strippers. She ended up at The Lusty Lady, a famous, female-owned peep show, whose managers told Langley that she could take as many pictures as she wanted, so long as she worked there herself. The result of that "dare" is this, a compilation of photos and texts that probe the complex dynamics of the pocket-change porn industry. Langley's photographs are the real storytellers here--images of women both on stage and at home, captured with all the frankness of photojournalism and yet composed and focused in ways that are clearly affectionate, almost protective. But sadly, this nuance did not spill over into the photographer's prose. Instead, Langley shifts awkwardly from feminist analysis to verbatim interviews to her own private thoughts, each time trying to explore how empowerment might be found in a quarter-controlled viewing booth. The end product is a scattershot account that succeeds, if at all, through the quiet strength of its images. (BdeP)

Barney's Version
by Mordecai Richler (Knopf, cloth, $25)

Barney Panofsky, a sardonic, overindulgent entrepreneur with a propensity for wine and women, is the protagonist in this tumultuous tale. We are first introduced to a coming-of-age Barney whose association with the black market sparks a desire to own a business. Romance soon overwhelms his libido, sending both reader and protagonist on a sordid adventure. He ultimately finds success as owner and creator of the tacky B-television company, Totally Useless Productions, but only after being implicated in the murder of his best friend. Passion perpetrates many a situation in Barney's Version, a fact made clear by just thumbing through the novel; feminine titles replace chapter titles.

Barney's Version is cohesive, humorous, delightfully vulgar and often hard to digest--Richler's use of first person can be at times overbearing. His talent is reflected primarily through the female characters he creates: tangible entities eager to escape pulp confines. Barney's Version, in essence, is very much that: an extensive, documented opinion. And as we all know, opinions must often be digested with a few grains of salt. (CR)

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