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Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Blake de Pastino, Steven Robert Allen, Devin D. O'Leary and Leslie Davis

DECEMBER 15, 1997: 

by Banana Yoshimoto (Grove, cloth, $22)

If Banana Yoshimoto has managed to avoid the trap of second-book syndrome, it's probably because she wasn't conscious of it at all. After her unpredictably successful Kitchen--which swept her onto the international stage around the age of 30--Yoshimoto faced the daunting task of showing her readers how she has matured as a writer, while still providing the youthful, feckless insight that she became famous for. She resolved the conflict unwittingly, it seems, with Amrita. Narrated by young Saku-chan, Yoshimoto's storyline takes us through the hidden dynamics of human strife, at the center of which is the unsettling death of Saku-chan's famous and beautiful sister, flanked in turn by some sophisticated subtexts, like a brother imbued with supernatural powers and a fiance immersed in his own vaguely autobiographical writing. Convincingly translated by Russell Wasden, Amrita speaks of a writer who has not been intimidated by her own renown. Instead, she has had the good sense to aim for quiet success. (BdeP)

Prize Stories 1997: The O. Henry Awards
edited by Larry Dark (Anchor, paper, $11)

It's a bag of tricks, of course. Stick your hand into the burlap sack and you might come up with a fistful of emeralds. Then again, you might come up with a mutant puppy that has no eyes and flippers instead of legs. It's worth the risk, though. Mary Gordon's first-prize story, "City Life," might be cold, empty crap, but George Saunder's second-place finisher, "The Falls," more than makes up for the insult.

Good stories are scattered among throw aways. And except for an inexcusable number of irritating typos, O. Henry delivers. Short story writing may be an invisible, or even irrelevant, art form in America in the 1990s, but there is still much joy to be had from reading a collection of stories that a bunch of experts have decided will be this year's best. (SRA)

TLA Film and Video Guide
edited by David Bleiler (St. Martin's Press, paper, $17.95)

It took me a while to figure out who the hell TLA was and why I should be listening to their opinion on movies. Turns out that TLA stands for Theater for the Living Arts, a reportedly prestigious repertory cinema in Philadelphia that somehow spun off into a chain of video stores. In his self-aggrandizing introduction, editor David Bleiler points out that, unlike other video guides, this one is "insightful, well-written and strongly opinionated." I guess when the writers call Death Race 2000 "somewhat campy," they're being insightful. On the well-written front, Summer School "manages to produce a few laughs," while Porky's "manages a few laughs." Truth is most of these capsules seem to have been copied directly off the video box cover. To its credit, TLA Film and Video Guide does concentrate more heavily on foreign and independent film. If you look carefully, though, there's a price after every film. Surprise! This video guide is nothing more than a glorified catalogue. (DO'L)

Lying, Cheating & Stealing
edited by Sara Nickles (Chronicle, paper, $12.95)

This collection is a followup to Drinking, Smoking & Screwing: Great Writers on Good Times. Like the first book, this one finds humor in the more seedy and sinister elements of the human psyche. From swindling and con games to faking orgasms and telling white lies, this outstanding anthology of short stories covers the gamut of all-American deceit and debauchery. It ranges from turn-of-the-century tales of swindlers and crooks to modern tales of indiscretion and closeted familial skeletons. Though the subject matter may lean toward the criminal, the essence of these stories is neither violent nor macabre; the authors find the wit and humor in the lies and marginally criminal activities that they describe. This is a book that is sure to bring a smile to your face, but if you choose to purchase it as a Christmas gift, you may decide upon reading it that you need to add it to your own collection. (LD)

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