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Austin Chronicle Off the Bookshelf

JULY 12, 1999: 

Poachers: Stories by Tom Franklin (William Morrow and Company) $22 hard

The anthropologically minded reader, the student of white trash, will relish Poachers for its encompassing declension of mean misfits from deep south Alabama, though approaching this alternately hilarious and mournful collection of nine short stories and one novella just to find out how the poaching set lives is a decided mistake. Sure, there are characters like Snakebite, who sleeps in his Peterbilt and showers every other day and eats pork and beans "that he speared with his pocketknife." But there's also Jan, who suffered a miscarriage three months ago and now laments having sex with her husband, who vengefully broadcasts that news to the couple's best friends. Henry is a grown man who tried to set his high school gym on fire and now lives with his parents. In this eerie place, as in the title novella, there are signs that dictate "Jesus Is Not Coming" instead of the customary "Jesus Is Coming Soon." In instances like this, it's all a bit too dire, but Poachers succeeds where some other short story collections do not by thoroughly laying out a small chunk of land as an entire universe. Franklin has the insight to depict and record rather than editorialize, which is crucial here because the author is keenly interested in loss, the loss of fellow feeling and the loss of landscape -- "the old, dark ways," he calls it -- to development, and even perhaps modernity. A nostalgic stance tends to petrify the nascent life of a story, but Franklin evinces admiration and disgust for his characters in equal measures, which makes Poachers more than just a book about the down and out in south Alabama; it's more of a sensibility. --Clay Smith

Interior With Sudden Joy by Brenda Shaughnessy (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) $21.00 hard

Recently, I had to explain to a stranger why I was reading poems in a bar: Brenda Shaughnessy's debut collection Interior With Sudden Joy actually reads well in a crowd. Her lyrical poems are a surprising blend of athletic, voluptuous language. They actively fill the mouth, more than the ear, and as such are suited well for spur-of-the-moment delight and passion. They transform the noise of a room so that a silent, meditative space almost seems too wimpy for them: "To come into my room is to strike strange./My plum velvet pillow & my hussy spot/ the only furniture." Most of the poems are direct addresses to a beloved, a woman lover. Many are in persona. Not all the poems meet their mark, but when they do it hurts. It's surprising that Farrar, Straus & Giroux has risked publishing a first collection, but Shaughnessy is going to be a poetic force to reckon with. --Lissa Richardson

The Alfred Hitchcock Triviography & Quiz Book by Kathleen Kaska (Renaissance Books) $13 paper

Kaska's book covers the master's career, decade by decade, and film by film, from The Pleasure Garden (1925) to Family Plot (1976), yet the aim here is not film theory but the joy of trivia about Alfred Hitchcock and his films. Kaska focuses upon story details, like "Where is Marion [Janet Leigh] when she stops at the Bates Motel?" rather than the number of shots composing the shower scene or the significance of the close-up of Marion's eye at its end. Did you know, for example, that Anthony Perkins did not act in Psycho's famous shower scene because he was performing on Broadway when Hitchcock filmed the famous 93 shots? Kaska occasionally refuses to share her facts in a straightforward fashion, but the hardcore Hitchcock fan will delight in the random pages of trivia and the 66 quizzes -- one for each film and another dozen on the oeuvre and life of the director. --Mason West

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