Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Stephen Ausherman, Nick Brown, Noah Masterson and Jessica English

MARCH 9, 1998: 

Sleeping with Random Beasts
by Karin Goodwin (Chronicle, cloth, $22.95)

A New Mexico native drinks her way across the country and, despite a case of herpes, sleeps with about half the men she meets. Get past that much about her and you might learn to enjoy her wicked charm and feel her endless pain. Sleeping with Random Beasts has the markings of an author's first work, such as the young and artistically inclined first-person character who dwells on her unhappy childhood and blames most of it on her parents. But rather than wallowing in self-therapy, Goodwin employs a malicious, witty voice with believable characters to tell a good story that straddles the gap between a coming-of-age adventure and a midlife crisis. And aside from its cryptic and grinding-halt conclusion, this debut novel--rescued from the heaps of unsolicited manuscripts--is better than most. Best of all is its revealing insight on growing up in the Southwest. Keep an eye out for Albuquerque landmarks, like the Sandias, Fat Chance (now defunct) and the hookers on Central. (SA)

Virtual Unrealities
by Alfred Bester (Vintage, paper, $14)

Alfred Bester was a remarkably gifted storyteller who left us with two novels, The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man. Most agree that the former is among the best science fiction novels ever written. The only other legacy we have from him, aside from his work for television and comic books, is a collection of short stories published in various volumes throughout the years, Virtual Unrealities being the most recent. Those expecting the same jolt his novels deliver may be disappointed by the uneven quality of his shorter works, but there's still plenty to get excited about. A few of the stories, most notably "Fondly Fahrenheit," hint at the greatness of his novels, though most remain an interesting study in what a great writer might churn out to keep food packets on the console. (NB)

Dizzy Z
by Matthew Holland (Soho, cloth, $22)

Butt-rockers. Heschers. Metalheads. Whatever you want to call them, the hair-farming culture of hard rock and heavy metal is often explored in glossy magazines and video documentaries, but rarely in fiction. Matthew Holland, in his debut novel Dizzy Z, sets out to change that, and to prove that these cheeseball lovers-of-spandex are people, too.

At first, the endless profanities and self-absorption is off-putting as the title character bitches about drugs, booze, groupies and his insanely popular band, Blood Cheetah. But it soon becomes evident that this is the most accurate portrayal of life on the stadium circuit ever put into words--that these guys really are egomaniacs who say "fuckin'" every other fuckin' word. Holland proves that he has a remarkable ear for dialogue and either a lot of experience with touring rock bands or an imagination that doesn't miss a single detail.

The question is whether Holland can write about anything but the rock and roll lifestyle. Looking into my Magic Eight-Ball--and at the back-cover photo of the author with his flowing blond locks--my sources say no. (NM)

Selected Short Stories
by Alice Munro (Vintage, paper, $16)

No touchy-feely or bland rambling introductions by literary theorists here: Alice Munro writes the preface to her Selected Stories herself. And she is a very down-to-earth little old lady, as infinitely interesting as her short stories about rural life. Among the best in this collection is "Turkey Barn" (1980): Seen from the eyes of a 14-year-old working as a turkey gutter in the 1940s, it's ripe with sexuality, tinged with sexual ambiguity and overflowing with bile and entrails. Like most of her stories, it is set in a bucolic Canadian town, but that does not predict backwoods and simplistic yarns. "You, the visitor, the reader ... can go back again and again," Munro writes in the introduction, "and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. ... To deliver a story like that, durable and freestanding, is what I'm always hoping for." And these 28 stories--selected for their length and accurate representation of periods of her writing--do invite you back; it is the fleshiness of Munro's characters that builds each solid, freestanding house. (JE)

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