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Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Blake de Pastino, Susan Schuurman, Jessica English, Michael Henningsen

NOVEMBER 10, 1997: 

by Lev Grossman (St. Martin's, paper, $12.95)

This is the trap that I lay for myself: I'm always looking forward to the next "first novel," the next debut by some unknown writer who will kick me in the shins with his brilliance. Why do I do this to myself? My latest disappointment is Warp, the debut of 28-year-old Lev Grossman. Predictably, his is a story of disaffected youth, college grads skulking around Boston looking for jobs, women and direction. But in an attempt to liven up the aimlessness, Grossman interjects his prose with pop-culture quips, stopping the action to quote from paperbacks, movies and--most woefully--"Star Trek: The Next Generation." This sort of Do-You-Remember-That stab at familiarity is enough to make any reader cringe, not to mention Grossman's play-acting at violence towards the end. Suffice it to say, my shins feel fine. (BdeP)

River of Time
by Jon Swain (St. Martin's, cloth, $22.95)

Anyone who has seen the film The Killing Fields knows the harrowing story of Cambodian interpreter Dith Pran and New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg. Thanks to Pran's intervention, British correspondent Jon Swain barely escaped execution by the Khmer Rouge, an episode depicted in the unforgettable film. In River of Time, Swain recalls the period he spent covering Indo-China, from 1970 through 1975, when the Communists took over South Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge crushed Cambodia. His journalist's eye for detail, if not nuance, gives us a clear picture of the confusing wars in all their chaotic misery and senseless suffering. Swain's passionate memoir is more like a love letter than a eulogy: He was intoxicated by Indo-China, its lush countryside, its beautiful women, its readily available opium. But at times his romantic view of war--he is exhilarated by brushes with death--can be nothing short of revolting. (SS)

The Southwest in American Literature and Art
by David W. Teague (Univ. of Arizona Press, paper, $19.95)

I don't know why I came to this desert. Fascinated with its people, history, style and landscape, I have devoured many of the studies--of which there are thousands--of New Mexican culture. Finally, I understand my strange attraction with David W. Teague's new book. The Southwest in American Literature and Art: The Rise of a Desert Aestheticis an account of turn-of-the-century rise in desert popularity, which had previously been feared as a treacherous wilderness. From 1890 to 1910, writers like Stephen Crane and artists like Frederic Remington changed the American perspective of the arid Southwest, romancing us with accounts of the enigmatic beauty that still draws newcomers like me. Teague's study also sparks an understanding of the need for ecological adaptation by modern desert dwellers, animated by penetrating analyses of literature and art, the most valued elements of our Southwestern culture. (JE)

El Sid
by David Dalton (St. Martin's, cloth, $21.95)

Sid Vicious was an asshole. The world is a better place without him, so it's OK to be glad he's dead. But just because he was a talentless, blathering dolt doesn't mean he isn't an important pop icon. The Sex Pistols, despite the fact that they were one of the worst excuses for a band in the history of popular music, shoved punk rock into the earholes of the world relentlessly and without mercy. And Sid Vicious, as author David Dalton so eloquently waxes in his lyrical, insightful biography, was the embodiment of all the punk movement stood for--he was a nobody at 17, world famous by 20 and dead by 21. He was victim and hero, the ultimate manifestation of self-destruction. And his whole whirlwind career was just for the hell of it. Yeah, Sid was an asshole. But damn, was he cool. (MH)

--Blake de Pastino, Susan Schuurman, Jessica English and Michael Henningsen

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