Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Blake de Pastino, Noah Masterson, Dorothy Cole, Brendan Doherty

OCTOBER 26, 1998: 

Lasso the Wind
by Timothy Egan (Knopf, cloth, $25)

It's not exactly clear when our part of the country became "new," but meditations on "The New West" have gotten awfully popular in recent years. There's something about the lost frontier, it seems, that draws essayists and journalists under its spell by the dozen. And while there may not be much need for another collection of musings about life beyond the 100th meridian, Timothy Egan's Lasso the Wind is at least a good contribution to the growing genre. Northwest reporter for The New York Times, Egan demonstrates an acute eye for detail as he investigates the culture of the West during these gibbous days of the millennium. He visits the dizzying cityscape of Las Vegas, discovers an Indian village inside the Grand Canyon, explores the habits of ostrich husbandry in Colorado, and through it all Egan shows that he's out to bust myths. His prose is surprisingly fresh--with talk of "full-throated thunderstorms" and cattlemen "drunk on doom and gloom"--but what's most refreshing about it is its utter lack of sentimentality. Egan is seasoned enough a Westerner not to need it. If you're searching for romance and melancholy, any one of a hundred books about "The New West" will suffice; if you're looking for a study with guts, Lasso the Wind may be your kind of guide, wise and irreverent. (BdeP)

Naked Pictures of Famous People
by Jon Stewart (Wm. Morrow, cloth, $24)

In the vast sea of mediocre comics, Jon Stewart has always been a head above the rest. His smart, off-the-cuff delivery has earned him a spot as Tom Snyder's backup and his own talk show on MTV. Next he'll host Comedy Central's critically acclaimed "The Daily Show." When Stewart is speaking to an audience or interviewing a guest, his impeccable timing and mischievous facial expressions garner laughs just as much as the content of his jokes. So when Stewart writes his jokes down, as he has in Naked Pictures of Famous People, the results are not always as funny as Stewart's spoken material. The book is still great fun and requires only an hour or so of your time. Stewart roasts the Kennedy clan (he theorizes that there are thousands of deformed Kennedy children, locked in a basement), Bill Gates (who sold his soul to the devil), Martha Stewart's sex life (keep that vagina clean and well-organized) and plenty more. The absurdity to which the essays are taken sometimes approaches Mark Leyner-esque proportions, and Stewart knows better than to give a rat's ass about political correctness. Naked Pictures is a funny book, but you might find yourself wishing the author was around to read it to you. (NM)

The Golden Ass of Apuleius
translated by Robert Graves (Noonday, paper, $12)
The Golden Ass is a classic in two different ways: The original was written in Latin around A.D. 150, and Graves' translation came out in 1947. The form of the story is episodic; it would be more than a thousand years before the novel was invented. A nobleman's curiosity about witchcraft gets him turned into an ass. He experiences and hears about one strange incident after another, including an authoritative version of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. The hero gets around more as a donkey than most people manage in human form. This book has some of the weirdest sex scenes since the Starr Report. It's a great source for sex and violence, plus the religion, history and philosophy are there if you want them. Graves, who died in 1985, highlights the key points in his introduction. If you thought old-fashioned meant repressed, take a look at what came before Queen Victoria. (DC)

Girls in the Grass
by Melanie Rae Thon (Owl, paper, $12)

Melanie Rae Thon belts out these short stories with a tone like a great blues singer. She spares no one the pain of need, as well as the arrogant flourishes of overdescription that hang like too many high and trilled notes. The 11 stories here cover characters from 10 to 90, from slavery-era child-bearing women gone dry at the breast to the displacement of children freshly moved from their beloved Montana to an Arizona desert where their parents argue in hushed tones. Three girls sit in the grass, drinking cheap wine and playing truth or dare. A young Iona Moon tries to use her body to connect in a deeper way with the spindly boys in her sleepy Midwestern town. A small boy in a poor neighborhood in Detroit tries to understand the fury of his mother's fundamentalist God and the mysterious danger of her pregnancy. These stories are written with all of the passion of a confession and all of the insight of a poem. Thon, named one of the 20 "Best Young American Novelists" by the literary magazine Granta and winner of the Whiting Writer's Award, slinks unseen like a cat into the rooms and lives of her subjects, conveying critical life moments that are as subtle as they are moving. (BCD)

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