Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Off the Bookshelf

JUNE 28, 1999: 

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb, ReganBooks, $16 paper

Six years after his first novel, She's Come Undone, Wally Lamb has given us a daunting but enticing 900-page tome called I Know This Much Is True. The seal of Oprah's Book Club on the cover promises a plethora of modern problems to inflame our fashionably collective outrage -- murder, rape, child abuse, AIDS, SIDS, incest, suicide, racism, and the treatment of the mentally ill -- and Lamb's novel delivers them all. Into the present-day narrative Lamb weaves a series of flashbacks that roll back the onionskin layers of denial in Dominick Birdsey, the novel's angry and sad narrator, who, unable to voice his grief, lies trapped within it. Dominick's schizophrenic twin brother, Thomas, has lopped off his hand to protest the impending Persian Gulf War, and, as Dominick describes Thomas's ensuing journey through the lunatic archipelago, he also unearths the past that created him and his brother -- even as they struggle to be together yet unique within the psychic link that bonds twins from the moment of conception. --Mason West


Wandering Time: Western Notebooks by Luis Alberto Urrea, University of Arizona Press, $18.95 hard

If you're stuck in Texas this summer and can only dream about road trips, cool mountains, and old friends, you need to spend some time with Wandering Time, American Book Award-winning author Luis Alberto Urrea's book of meditations about the Rockies and Western vicinity. Wandering Time blends bone-splitting insight with humor, poetry, nature, music (including Hendrix, Morrison, and a Joe Ely show in Santa Fe), Urrea's three-legged dog, and memory. But this book is more than nature writing, memoir, or road trip lit. Urrea doesn't confide or confess. He trusts you to walk with him into the most private realms of nature, including human nature. What Urrea says about friendship could be said for this book: "I'm here when you need the dream time." Wandering Time is short but dense. It is written to be sipped -- a little at a time is enough to take you far, far away. --Lissa Richardson


Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line by Michael Eric Dyson, Vintage, $12 paper

After obligatorily rehashing the O. J. Simpson mess, Dyson, a professor at Columbia, examines the idea of the black intellectual as nuanced public spokesperson, a necessary evil in a pale country. Dyson unearths several great insights. One of the best essays in the book, "Black Youth, Pop Culture, and the Politics of Nostalgia," explores the music of hip-hop from a high-minded, academic perspective, but in comparing modern rap and R&B artists to the great soul and funk performers of yesteryear, Dyson concludes that contemporary black musicians are just as worthy of respect as their predecessors. Race Rules covers much the same territory that other, similar books such as Cornell West's Race Matters have, but Dyson's loose tongue mingled with his academic perspective makes reading the collection a worthwhile endeavor. --Rod Machen


Wanting a Child: Twenty-Two Writers on Their Difficult but Mostly Successful Quests for Parenthood in a High-Tech Age Edited by Jill Bialosky and Helen Schulman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $13 paper

Depend on writers to take their silent obsessions and secret losses and wind them into something uniquely beautiful and telling. Wanting a Child is essential for anyone who has dreamed of building a family yet has found themself without child over and over again. Miscarriage, chronic illness, artificial insemination, surrogacy, adoption, in-vitro fertilization, straight, gay, and lesbian couples, single women -- all these stories are told in emotional detail with the cold eye of science peering in. Writers include: Sophie Cabot Black, Bob Shacochis, Peter Carey, Tama Janowitz, and Phillip Lopate, among others. Yet I was most interested to discover that within these tales of longing for a tiny other are even larger stories. The pale inside walls of relationships -- often impossible for outsiders to comprehend -- are exposed here in all their pathetic, obsessive, confused, angry, gentle, forgiving, loving, healing complexity. For their unflinching honesty in facing unimaginable loss, these writers deliver a tiny thing called hope. --Robin Bradford


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