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Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Claire Nettleton, Michelle Manning

MARCH 22, 1999: 

Happiness by Todd Solondz (Faber and Faber, paper, $13)

Happiness is that elusive feeling everyone else seems to possess. Whether those who attain happiness--famous celebrities, accomplished doctors, happy homemakers--actually have an understanding of what happiness truly means is beside the point. They appear happy, therefore, they are happy.

Todd Solondz, author of the screenplay for Happiness and director of the film, introduces the reader to a group of people whose paths become intertwined much like the characters in Robert Altman's Shortcuts. We soon find out what seems to be "happiness" isn't.

The screenplay opens with a woman in the midst of a break-up with her boyfriend, which seems to be civil enough. Soon, this amicable parting of the ways turns into shouts of loathing and hatred directed toward Joy, one of three sisters around whom the story revolves. Helen, the second sister and famous rape victim author (though she's never been raped) is the object of desire by her creepy neighbor, Allen. It's soon revealed that Allen's affections are, shall we say, unhealthy. Luckily, Allen seems pretty harmless, and he's seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Bill Maplewood. Maplewood, married to third sister Trish, seems to be the only one of the bunch with a stable life and mentality, unless you count his tendencies toward pedophilia. Trish is none the wiser and, given she's the only one in the family with a doctor husband, three kids and a dog, she truly believes she's living victorious; she's the happiest of all.

The difference between a good script, or movie, versus a bad one is if the reader, or audience, feels for the characters. A movie filled with pedophiles, stalkers and degenerates would probably only promote feelings of disgust. What Solondz has done so well is write these characters as anything but the typical antagonist/protagonist. He's created our neighbors, friends, teachers and doctors--people we know. The audience can't help but feel for them. That's what makes Happiness so real and so dark.

People escape in a screenplay or film to avoid the realities of life. With Happiness, Solondz shoves life in your face. And at times, you will laugh. But it's not a question of whether the laughs are derived from the absurd situation the characters find themselves in, but whether these nervous laughs come from the fact that his characters are all too familiar to you. (MM)

Why Am I Always So Tired by Ann Louise Gittleman (HaperCollins, cloth, $20.00)

If you find yourself daydreaming about lattes with floating, frothy clouds of foam, or you spend sleepless nights reflecting on all of the mysteries of the universe, perhaps you are experiencing copper overload. According to nutritionist Ann Louis Gittleman, both fatigue and over stimulation are symptoms of copper imbalance. In her latest book, Gittleman reveals that the dangers of heavy metals are more serious than the conspiracy theory that Megadeth lyrics are responsible for the decline of America's youth. Basing her research on studies done by Dr. Karl Pfeiffer in the early '70s, she believes that the metals found in food and dental work may contribute to physical and mental mishap.

On Tuesday, Feb. 2, Gittleman discussed her health theories at Page One in an hour-long session. She lectured infomercial style, tailoring every question to her book. Whenever the crowd inquired about why they were having liver problems or gaining weight, Gittleman simply responded, "Too much copper." Those who are skeptical of any minimalist approach might dismiss this idea; however, Gittleman writes that most people decrease copper intake as a last resort and do experience positive results.

The book begins with stories of Gittleman's clients with inexplicable health problems who shared no response to medicine, exercise or considerably healthy diets.

Gittleman at first dismissed the trend of high copper levels because copper is involved in producing energy. However, as Gittleman explains, "Copper is a double edged mineral: it performs critical functions in the body, but it also can ... drain energy."

The most surprising aspect of Gittleman's beliefs is that fat-free diets can contribute to health problems, meaning that a veggie-crazed health nut could actually be more toxic than an unwholesome, Whopper-loving carnivore. Gittleman exposed the truth about carbohydrates and other pseudo-energy foods such as liver and bagels as being copper rich.

The effects of metal overload can be scary, but don't go yanking out your fillings or swearing off carbs just yet. The key is moderation. By flipping through the appendix, you can get an update on how much of those nasty metals you are really ingesting. Gittleman suggests avoiding copper rich foods and counteracting copper with zinc supplements. When all else fails, try Gittleman's diet advice. Just make sure to take it with a grain of salt. (CN)

--Claire Nettleton and Michelle Manning

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