Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Brendan Doherty, Gaylon Parsons, Jessica English

NOVEMBER 16, 1998: 

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt
by Aimee Bender (Doubleday, cloth $21.95)

In her debut book of short stories, Bender has created a surreal world filled with interesting characters. Hunchbacks, inebriated mermaids, women who give birth to their own mothers and a boyfriend who metaphorically de-evolves until he has entirely disappeared are the materials. With these, she weaves well-written tales, delivered in a wonderful musical and colloquial prose. With these, she tells stories of illness, desire, love, forgiveness and how they transform. They are fresh, outlandish and disarming. The unexpected hovers ever-present over every word. This brave new writer has performed a high-wire act with words, and there is a sense of danger and wonder that accompanies it. The questions hang: How does she work out these ridiculous premises with such a wave of the pen? How can she top herself? How the hell will each of these preposterous but highly believable stories end? One must read to ultimately know. (BCD)

Nearsighted Naturalist
by Ann Haymond Zwinger (Univ. of Arizona Press, $19.95 paper)

Nature has provided writers with a constant and unwavering source of inspiration from Thoreau to Abbey. In the hands of a few capable writers, outdoor experiences are a terrific springboard to discuss larger social and spiritual issues: morality, values, connection with God, etc. The contrast between what we have created and what God has created gives the writers the ability to comment on each and allows us a clear understanding of why we should pay attention when a particular writer goes out of the house. Yet very little of that is contained in Zwinger's collection of essays presented here. Zwinger, an award-winning writer, suffers quite literally from myopia. That condition provides the painstaking attention to nature's detail as she rides down the San Juan River, goes in the backyard, explores a cave on "Robinson Crusoe's" island off the Chilean coast, watches exotic birds in New Zealand's forests or trips through the Yangtze in China. What fans of this genre will find is that they are snoring through the pages like so many slide shows of someone else's vacation. (BCD)

The Feminization of American Culture
by Ann Douglas (Noonday, paper, $15)

Men produce; women consume. Whatever your ideas regarding the moral failings or obvious ambition of Ms. Monica "I Don't Wanna Be Your Miss Hathaway" Lewinsky, it doesn't take a third eye to see that women are the shoppers, the tough customers of our ever-so-free market. It's seldom the gentlemen who ooh and ahh over a new product, unless it cures impotence or grows hair. Ann Douglas' landmark 1977 work, now out in a new edition, traces how this came to be, using as a lens the middle-class white ladies and the newly "disestablished" Protestant ministers of 19th-century New England. She examines how each of these groups lost political and economic power, and how they took the area of culture as their new seat of influence. Her sample seems limited from our vantage point, 21 years later, but her insights into gender and what culture is remain provocative and profound. (GMP)

Going Down
by various writers (Chronicle, cloth, $12.95)

How apropos--a sleek little book devoted to oral sex! The danger of thematic compilations like this is that the editors sometimes have to grasp to make the works fit. Although these moments are all too apparent in Going Down, there is some damn fine erotica in here: Anaïs Nin, Philip Roth, John Updike, Oscar Wilde. The greatest accomplishment of the book is--well, OK, it's that it got me all hot and bothered. But the second is the diversity of the pieces: instructional, humorous, mystical, steamy, flippant, the borderline pornographic and even limericks. The only grating, crappy standout is Anka Radakovich's "On Being a Cunning Linguist," sophomoric advice for--well, you know--delivered in an arrogant and clinically stultifying tone. But one out of 20 ain't bad. From Frank Zappa and Peter Occhiogrosso's "Girls Together Outrageously," a story about the groupies who cast rock stars' dicks in plaster, to Susan St. Aubin's "Cynthia," a ménage à trois between the mystical, sensual and spiritual, Going Down teeters between playfulness and steaminess, lust and laughter. Many of the pieces in this book are excerpts from larger works, so there's more to look forward to reading. It's a titillating little tease--foreplay if you will--to whet your appetite for a more fulfilling erotic experience from writers who do it best. (JE)

--Brendan C. Doherty, Gaylon M. Parsons and Jessica English

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