This Week's Reads

Candace Bushnell, Jon Krakauer, and Daniel Hayes.

TRADING UP

By Candace Bushnell (Hyperion, $24.95) Go ahead; we think it's so cute the way you tote around that weighty historical biography or college-lit classic like you really mean it. But don't think you're fooling us, beach bunnybeneath those glossy, swapped dust jackets, you're really reading one of two things: the new Harry Potter or the new Candace Bushnell. It's Candace's time, after all; the sixth and final season of Sex and the City, the HBO pop-cultural touchstone she created, has just hit cable. Meanwhile, Bushnell, once one of New York's most glamorous perennial single girls, has finally settled down and gotten married, to a ballet dancer years her junior, no less. Plus, if any time was ever meant for the columnist-turned-author's featherweight dissection of the New York-Hamptons social strataaka Lifestyles of the Rich and Bitchythe hot, humid summer is it. Trading Up picks up the story of Victoria's Secret model Janey Wilcox, first introduced in 2001's best-selling short-story quartet Four Blondes. Janey is gorgeous, scheming, and more ambitious than a trading floor's worth of Gordon Gekkos. Newly bounced back from a work slump, Janey is determined to milk her newfound A-list status for everything it's worthwhether that means befriending a top-tier socialite or bedding a clueless, smitten media power broker. Despite Janey's inherent unlikability (and thoroughly annoying blindness to her own weaknesses and shortcomings), Bushnell churns out a good, pulpy story full of sex, scandal, and the nefarious evil-doings of New York's boldfaced figures. In the end, though, the book is really nothing more than an East Coast Jackie Collins, tarted up with up-to-the-minute cultural references and titillating blind-item-style characters undoubtedly drawn from The New York Post's Page Six gossip column. You may enjoy itoh, who are we kidding, you'll love itbut you certainly won't respect yourself in the morning. LEAH GREENBLATT Candace Bushnell will read at Third Place Books (17171 Bothell Way N.E., 206-366-3333), 7 p.m. Thurs., July 31. UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN: A STORY OF VIOLENT FAITH

By Jon Krakauer (Doubleday, $26) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) is touchy about its history. Like other religions that evolved from marginal cults into major faiths, it is both protective and somewhat ashamed of its past. (Mormons don't even like being called Mormons anymore; "Church of Jesus Christ" is the new preferred appellation.) Unlike most other large religions, though, Mormonism is less than 200 years old. American born and bred, it has thrived in the era of mass media, starting with the newspapers of the mid-19th century. At times, Mormonism has made headlines with its radicalism, from promoting polygamy to making war on the United States. Founder Joseph Smithseemingly equal parts Huck Finn and a modern Mosesgathered followers to a movement that was abolitionist, communist, and committed to overthrowing Puritan orthodoxies. So, how did Mormonism morph into the starched-collar Republicanism of Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch? More interestingly, does Mormonism's rebellious heart still beat? Two true-crime histories provide insight. The first comes from former Seattle author Jon Krakauer, best known for Into Thin Air. He offers an in-depth look at the ongoing phenomenon of apostate Mormon sects who have rejected the mainline LDS church, in part because of its official renunciation of formerly accepted practices such as polygamy and "blood atonement" (an old Mormon euphemism for cutting the throats of the impure). These fundamentalists believe they are living according to divinely inspired principles laid out by Smith and subsequent self-appointed Mormon visionaries. They've created elaborate polygamous patriarchal communities tightly bound by faith and familyin many cases too tightly bound, as incest and abuse are rampant. Krakauer delves into the life and crimes of the two Lafferty brothers who in 1984 gruesomely murdered their sister-in-law and baby niece because they believed it was God's will. Krakauer argues that Mormon fundamentalistsperhaps all fundamentalistsseem to be acting out the shadow side of their faith. From investigative reporter Sally Denton, American Massacre (Knopf, $26.95) tells the fascinating story of the Mountain Meadows slaughter of 1857. There, Mormon militia members murdered over 100 men, women, and children in a gentile (non-Mormon) wagon train headed for California, likely on orders from Brigham Young himself. The crime and subsequent cover-upthey tried to blame it on the Indianswere national scandals, but it has taken more than a century for the truth to emerge. Denton's book walks us through the history of Mormonism and explores the dynamics that could make such an act possible. Persecution is part of it, fanaticism another, but the Mormon story and Mountain Meadows strike contemporary chords as bin Laden and other desert holy warriors attempt to exterminate their enemies. Joseph Smith, sounding like a latter-day mullah calling for jihad, set the tone in his so-called "Mohammed" speech of 1838: "If they come to molest us, we will establish our religion by the sword. We will trample down our enemies and make it one gore of blood from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean." Denton demonstrates that the Mountain Meadow massacre was a deliberate terror attack sanctioned by the church itself. Krakauer uses the Lafferty slayings to indict Mormon fundamentalism for a holier-than-thou fanaticism that still destroys lives and families. Indeed, both authors suggest that while Mormonism has pruned its roots and branches in a search for mainstream acceptability, there still lurks a darkness that cannot be denied. KNUTE BERGER Jon Krakauer will read at Town Hall (1119 Eighth Ave., 206-624-6600; tickets $5), 7:30 p.m. Fri., Aug. 1. KISSING YOU

By Daniel Hayes (Graywolf Press, $15) This debut collection of stories starts out unpromisingly, as if San Francisco writer Daniel Hayes can't make up his mind whether to create mere sketches or actual stories. The 10 tales included in this slim volume begin with the formerfull of fastidious, neurotic types living too much inside their own headsthen fortunately shift to the latter. For me, the turning point came exactly halfway, with the fifth story, "This World of Ours," in which a young straight photographer obligingly masturbates for the two older gay proprietors of a San Fran antiques shop in exchange for a vintage wooden filing cabinet. At lasta little incident, something actually happening, as opposed to one of Hayes' earlier characters who imagines she's being visited by the silent ghost of a not-yet-dead Bob Hope. (Any potential there is spoiled by the fact that Hope isn't allowed to crack wiselike, "Somebody get me out of this woman's hallucination! Am I making SAG scale for this?") The filing-cabinet story doesn't really have an ending, but at least it's got a little shape to it. Hayes continues to shape his stories for the duration of Kissing You, although his language never grabs you by the lapels. In "Sweet Nothings," a guy on an awkward date mulls, "Life requires you to look at someone's eyes periodicallyanyone'sto remind you that there's life going on beyond your own small existence." That truism echoes through the rest of Hayes' stories, as he shifts from third- to first- person narration among male and female characters. In the engaging "Motormouth," after dumping her psycho fiancé, a 37-year-old woman wonders why she's still single. Brenda frankly addresses the reader as "you" (a device Hayes also employs elsewhere), as in, "Imagine, if you will, my breasts. Or don't." Like the unnamed fellow in Hayes' final story, "Anything but a Gentleman," Brenda is coming to terms with an unresolved life that's bounced through relationships, engagements, marriages, affairs, divorces, therapy, and all the other milestones that mark adulthood. (Or which, in other words, would seem to supply structure but don't.) This last story returns to a more elliptical formatvignettes, reallythat also harkens back to the collection's initial solipsism. That may be Hayes' point: No matter how much we try to breach the boundaries of our own small existence, the walls keep pressing in. BRIAN MILLER Daniel Hayes will read at Elliott Bay Book Co. (101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600), 7:30 p.m. Mon., Aug. 4. info@seattleweekly.com

 
comments powered by Disqus