Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Noah Masterson, Gaylon M. Parsons, Dorothy Cole

NOVEMBER 2, 1998: 

10 Years on 2 Wheels: A Photographer's Journey Around the World
by Helge Pedersen (Elfin Cove, cloth, $48)

Filled with wanderlust, Norwegian Helge Pedersen set off to ride his BMW motorcycle through most of Africa--including the Sahara Desert--using little more than a compass for his bearings. Upon his return to Norway two years later, he still hadn't gotten it out of his system. Over the next eight years, he traveled 250,000 miles through 77 countries. Along the way, he worked as an octopus catcher, a tour guide and, most importantly, a photojournalist. He was the first (and only) person to cross the 80 miles of impenetrable jungles and swamps between Colombia and Panama with a motorcycle. (He spent most of the time pushing the bike.) He suffered broken bones, dysentery and multiple bouts with malaria. He learned several languages. He even fell in love. 10 Years on 2 Wheels is a coffee-table book full of photos and anecdotes from Pedersen's trip. The photos are gorgeous, and Pedersen's breezy prose runs from humorous to harrowing--but always satisfying. After reading this, you may want to pack your bags and never return. (NM)

Waltzing the Cat
by Pam Houston (Norton, cloth, $23.95)

This story collection will probably irritate all but the most ardent Pam Houston fans and those readers with a penchant for cat detective novels. It's a pleasant surprise to discover that the title story ranks as one of Houston's best ever. Her fetching, distinctive sense of humor plays with death, homecomings and the hope of redeemable family relationships with a deftness any writer would envy. This collection reads like a novel, but the short story form allows Houston the freedom to move from San Francisco to Ecuador to Colorado with a minimum of clutter in the plot. Cowboys Are My Weakness made Pam Houston one of our most beloved authors, and Waltzing will remind us why. The women in her stories want to see what they can do; they want to feel their muscles both psychic and corporeal. The intersection, and occasional crash, of their compelling inner lives with their very physical activities (river running, flying) is where Houston shines. The theme is grand, and she is equal to the challenge. (GMP)

Kiss Me, Judas
by Will Christopher Baer (Viking, cloth, $21.95)

This debut novel, like all good noir before it, describes a world cold and slick as blood where nothing is as it seems. The novels of Chandler, Hammett, Thompson and now Baer show a cursed world in which no one is innocent and the guilty are not so much punished as they are all equally at the mercy of luck and accident. Baer stalks his plot, giving out possibilities and realities as though they were one and the same. Smiling killers meet cruel women, always in transit to somewhere chasing the things that seem to glitter like gold. God, the stuff is stylish. And poorly lit. In a motel room in Denver, a man and a woman meet. She has the sharp teeth of a kitten shredding a mouse, and he carries a past of brightness and love turned gory and mad. She steals his kidney, and he wants it back. To tell more would reveal too much of this perfect thriller. Light a cigarette, and try to sleep tonight. (GMP)

Burroughs at Santo Domingo
by John Macker (Long Road Press, paper, $8)

Poet John Macker grew up in Colorado and managed to inhale a strong western Catholic sensibility in the high-altitude air. This slim volume of poems overreaches only occasionally, when he tries to wedge himself too firmly into the idiom of the beat generation. When he probes the emotional and physical dimensions of his adopted New Mexico, he can come close to transcendence. He possesses an instinct for the telling detail and can perceive and transmit what is interesting about some of the people and places he happens to encounter. When he appropriates sacred places, he lets them retain their integrity. His St. Patrick's day sizzles with names in Old Gaelic and his Thanksgiving drinks with rattlesnakes, but his New Mexicans look and sound like people we know. Chances are, everyone who reads this will think it's about something different; that's what separates lyric poetry from narrative prose. Macker says that he lives "near the village of Bernal, New Mexico ... at the foot of Starvation Peak." He certainly seems at home there. (DC)

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