Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Stephen Ausherman, Valerie Yarberry, Leslie Davis, Julie Birnbaum

MARCH 2, 1998: 

The Owl's Song
by Janet Campbell Hale (UNM Press, paper, $12.95)

First published by Doubleday in 1974, The Owl's Song is a kind of multicultural version of A Separate Peace and reflects the same issues of youthful alienation found in The Outsiders and The Contender. However, Billy White Hawk's coming-of-age story rises above the rest by offering more than a brooding search for identity. It takes on complex social and economic issues as well as interracial and inner-tribal conflicts. Hale, author of Bloodlines and member of the Coeur d'Alene tribe of northern Idaho, manages to carry her themes without condescension through realistic '70s dialogue ("Not so fast, motha,") from a variety of well-formed characters. This is nothing like the crying chief in the "Keep America Beautiful" commercial of the same decade. Interspersed with vivid dreams and visions, The Owl's Song is a fascinating, though brief, look at growing up in the New West and should be required reading in all American high schools. (SA)


Brown Water Cafe
by Bill Barrett (Owlseeall, paper, $6.95)

Local author Bill Barrett has skillfully transformed the American distraction of UFO investigations into a poetic quest for God and the understanding of our country's mentality. In his short, self-published novel, Barrett explores the theory that people project their fears of the unknown onto objects in the sky. Testing his notion, Barrett places his protagonist, artist Lee Francis, in a car bound for a friend's wedding in New York. Along the way, Francis asks waitresses, farmers and anyone who appears to be receptive for their thoughts on UFOs. In the end, Barrett gives us his take on reality, love and the inspiring New Mexico terrain, emphasizing open-mindedness all the way. He admits that most people exist on a superficial level, thriving on triviality, but they still possess the potential for profundity.

Brown Water Cafe is clearly a work with a message. Though Barrett clarifies the American mentality, he leaves several issues open for readers to interpret for themselves, as any exceptional author should. He has managed, in a mere 111 pages, to revive confidence in the American people, the existence of goodwill and the power of individuality. (VY)


Geographies of the Heart
by Kate Fuller Niles (Blue Heron Press, paper, $7.95)

If poetry is food for the soul, then this locally published collection by Kate Niles is exemplary fare. Rooted in the landscape of the Southwest, she employs well-crafted environmental analogies for her personal experiences. The collection is broken into several sections representing chapters of her life as they were played out in different geographical areas, including Colorado, California, Arizona and New Mexico. The solace and inspiration provided by these solitary landscapes are evident in her poetry, and she artistically weaves her personal experiences into the land around her. (The childhood trauma of incest in California, for instance, is compellingly revealed against the backdrop of a violated and polluted city.) Her observations are concise and insightful, though the issues are, at times, painful. Her poetry rings with honesty rather than bitterness, and ultimately, it is a collection of triumphant revelations, self-love and personal fulfillment. (LD)


Shadows of a Childhood
by Elisabeth Gille (New Press, cloth, $23)

From the blurred frontier between fiction and autobiography comes Shadows of a Childhood, the story of a young Jewish girl's experience in France during World War II. Author Elisabeth Gille was five years old when her mother, Russian writer Irene Nemirovsky, was deported to Auschwitz and never seen again. Gille, along with her sister, was hidden in the French countryside until the end of the war. In her third novel--the first to be translated into English--five-year-old Léa is hidden in a convent after her parents are taken, where she befriends Bénedicte, whose parents are also missing. At the war's end, Léa begins an obsessive process of learning her parents' awful fate and also discovers the true meaning of the French Resistance: For many of its members, Léa finds, the primary concern was French honor rather than the protection of the Jews. The novel's subtleties, both thematic and stylistic, are most likely lost on many American readers, especially since the translation is sometimes too literal and awkward. The more abstract themes, however--friendship and its underside of dependence, and the impossibility of forgetting the past--shine through with beauty and clarity. (JB)


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