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By Jessica English, Jeffrey Lee, Todd Gibson, Susan Schuurman

MAY 4, 1998: 

Charlie Carrillo: Tradition & Soul/Tradición y Alma
by Barbe Awalt and Paul Rhetts (LPD Press, paper, $39.95)

The first time I saw Charlie Carrillo's work, I was a 15-year-old punk on a school trip to the Denver Art Museum. Then and there, I fell in love with his bright, cartoonish works, painted in a simple style even Giotto would have envied. It's obvious from this new book documenting one of the most well-known santeros in our state that authors Barbe Awalt and Paul Rhetts share the same love for Carrillo's work. Santeros are not folk artists, according to Charlie Carrillo; they are practitioners of a sacred art. But being a santero doesn't necessarily mean one is a holy man; it is about being a historian and educator. Awalt and Rhetts capture these philosophies and the history of this artist and historian, while providing a list of Carrillo exhibitions and an in-depth analysis of religious art. Charlie Carrillo: Tradition & Soul, a gorgeous book filled with photographs of Carrillo's work, is a must-own for collectors. If you haven't seen Carrillo's work, check this out--viewing it is a religious experience in and of itself. (JE)

Peggy: The Life of Margaret Ramsay
by Colin Chambers (St. Martin's, cloth, $27.95)

Margaret Ramsay, who died last year, was famous as the British theater's most influential literary agent; as a personality, she was legendary. Vanessa Redgrave imitated her genteel "dears" and "darlings"--usually punctuating a remark that would make a sailor blush--in Prick Up Your Ears, the film about Joe Orton. Chambers' description of Ramsay on the phone ("a mass of nervous energy ... waving her free arm like a mad conductor") and his recounting of her favorite sexual anecdotes, one involving a Victorian sofa and Eugene Ionesco, are hilarious. Her life was not so much full of incident as full of anecdote, and it's the many "Peggy stories," culled from interviews with the three generations of playwrights she represented, that sustain this new biography. Besides Orton, she nurtured, infuriated and bullied Robert Bolt, Christopher Hampton, Alan Ayckbourne, David Hare and dozens of others to success beginning in the early 1950s. Consequently, Peggy is a portrait not only of an irresistible character but of an important time in the history of the stage. (JL)

Reopening the American West
edited by Hal K. Rothman (Univ. of Arizona Press, paper, $15.95)

The population of the Southwest is exploding--a surge of humanity that's inspiring a proliferation of new houses, roads, stores and cars. How can we preserve the unique landscape while accommodating all of these newcomers? Reopening the American West--a collection of essays on issues ranging from water rights to overpopulation to Native sovereignty--explores this question from many different angles.

Developed in partnership with the Arizona Humanities Council, these essays are all thoughtful examinations of modern-day environmentalism by some of the top authors in the field. But although they're intelligent, well-written and logical, they are all marked by a major flaw of environmentalism: namely, a refusal to compromise on idealism. For example, Helen Ingram's "Place Humanists at the Headgates" argues that poets should settle water-rights disputes--a theory that ignores the endless complexity of the modern water debate. Don't get me wrong; We need our dreamers, but we need practicality as well, and most of these essays fail to recognize the limitations of such idealism. Despite this flaw, Reopening the American West interjects a much-needed dose of history and perspective into topics that go misunderstood in our sound-bite culture. You'll leave the book with a greater understanding of the complex web of issues underlying this fantastic land of ours. (TG)

Preston Falls
by David Gates (Knopf, cloth, $25)

Like your unflattering reflection in a fluorescent-lit, gas station bathroom mirror, Preston Falls portrays modern-day WASP suburban life with contemptuous realism. Take the first line: "Late Friday afternoon they start for Preston Falls: Jean and the kids in the Cherokee, Willis in his truck with Rathbone the dog riding shotgun." Gates' accuracy in depicting family life for this middle-aged couple makes the mundane and tedious so tangible that one can barely persevere. But when Willis starts exhibiting irrational violent outbursts (at a Park Ranger and his country home's window), things gratefully get interesting. Willis' angst is complex, and not even half of the answers are provided in this at-times-surprising novel. He sabotages his job, his marriage, his relationship with his two kids and even crosses over into the morally grey area of drug and alcohol abuse. Although Willis acts tough, he's actually a torn intellectual who devours Dickens novels when under whatever influence. And it's the contradictions between the constant intelligent narrative in his head and the randomly violent actions his body commits that make Willis an original creation. Smart yet stymied with post-modern cynicism, Preston Falls ends up defining the common dilemma of being so smart-ass that one can't figure out how to enjoy life. (SS)

--Jessica English, Jeffrey Lee, Todd Gibson and Susan Schuurman

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