Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Gaylon Parsons, Dorothy Cole, Brendan Doherty, Jennifer Scharn.

OCTOBER 12, 1998: 

The Way to Bright Star
by Dee Brown (Forge, cloth, $24.95)

Historians can become too enamored of factual accuracy and historical precision to write compelling fiction, or so goes a Hollywood version of the truth. Dee Brown's latest fiction proves the assumption wrong. He has written numerous volumes on the USA-izing of the West, both fiction and non-, and his latest foray into the fabricated will satisfy the most devilish of detail hunters. Brown's fine brush and subtle wit serve his tale of a grand camel adventure well. Two young people travel in the border and Midwestern states during the Civil War, encountering not only chaos but also the whole gaudy panorama of American life: cartoony villains, soldiers and sheriffs, snooty officers, rebel bandits, erudite peddlers and French painters. The frame is an enchanting story in which an aged Ben reflects on his life in the circus and discovers long-held secrets regarding his first true love. Brown keeps it sharp and authentic, allowing his considerable knowledge to make this sweet, old-fashioned treat less sugary than it might have been. (GMP)

Reservation Road
by John Burnham Schwartz (Knopf, cloth, $24)

For readers who like being bored. A 10-year-old boy stands in the middle of the road at night and gets hit by a speeding car. He dies. The driver of the car feels guilty and tries not to get caught. The kid's parents feel guilty and obsess about the emptiness of their lives. Here's the problem: The only likable or mildly interesting characters are the driver and his own son. Their part of the story includes some realism and off-beat details. But that's all there is. His ex-wife is vindictive and unpleasant; the victim's parents are smug and self-absorbed. The kid who gets hit doesn't exist at all, beyond supposedly being some sort of musical prodigy. Since we never get to know him alive, it's hard to care that he's dead. His parents are the type who are shocked to discover they're not perfect. Something happens in the last 30 pages. By then it's too late. (DC)

Bunny Modern
by David Bowman (Little Brown, cloth, $21.95)

Bowman wrote a take on the great American road novel with Let the Dog Drive, a hilariously rambling and gripping story. In the intervening years, he has contributed to Salon online magazine and The New York Times Book Review. His follow-up, Bunny Modern, is a hard-boiled comedy about love, abduction and child care in a future where electricity has disappeared and fertility is on the wane, but human passions are as messy as ever. Claire, a nanny, packs a Glock pistol and guards babies from childless kidnappers. She has undergone the standard aversion therapy to keep her from bonding with the infants she protects. Claire, despite her training, falls prey to the drooly charms and big wet eyes of her care, particularly a child named Soda. Narrated by Dylan, an investigator hired to follow Claire by Soda's parents, he joins her in a series of adventures to fertility monuments. Bowman's hallucinogenic flourishes mark the book, as does his well developed narrative and a sweet penchant for wicked humor. (BCD)

Watermelon Nights
by Greg Sarris (Hyperion, paper, $24.95)

It is apparent that Greg Sarris is intimately acquainted with life on the rez. With brutal honesty, from grammatically incorrect speech to dusty porches to families living in poverty, Sarris captures that which is real for all too many Native Americans. Every page smacks with realism, leaving the reader thinking about his words long after the book is shut. There seems to be no stronger culture that honors its ancestors and bloodline with such incredible intensity. All of the characters, whether anti-white, -Indian or -government, cannot deny or escape the ties that bind them. Leaving home is difficult in itself, but for the young main character Johnny Severe, it also means turning his back on his tribe altogether. His story is told not only from Johnny's tortured point of view, but also through his mother's and grandmother's eyes, forming cross- generational perspectives spanning years of heartache, choices and forgiveness. (JLXS)

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