WHAT EVER By Heather Woodbury (Faber and Faber, $15) If you were bothered by Irvine Welsh's adherence to Scottish colloquialisms and British junkie dialect in

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This Week's Reads

Heather Woodbury, Amanda Stern, Ivan Doig, Deanna Kizis, Max Ludington, and William Greider.

WHAT EVER By Heather Woodbury (Faber and Faber, $15) If you were bothered by Irvine Welsh's adherence to Scottish colloquialisms and British junkie dialect in Trainspotting, you may want to stop reading now and go on to the next review, because Heather Woodbury makes Welsh look like a stickler for the Queen's English. It's not just the language that trips you up in this "living novel," which keeps many of the stage directions and scene settings from Woodbury's original eight-hour, 100-character performance piece. Jumping from city to city, chapter by chapter, Woodbury drops in on young ravers, lousy streetwalkers, some old Manhattan biddies, and various other folks in mid-'90s America. There are over a dozen primary characters and about a zillion more on the periphery. Each has distinct, idiosyncratic speech ticks, and Woodbury prefaces the book by stressing that her goal was to present real dialogue, to record and adapt the real speech of real Americans. Thus, when Bushie the hooker suggests to her fellow hooker Snapple, "Let's go tuh da Ay-rab's fuh chips," it isn't like you don't know what she's talking about, but 300-plus pages gets rather tedious. And when Cloveyes, there's a character called Clovespews endless lines of really bad poetry instead of just talking like a normal human, that's when things get really tedious. Language aside, What Ever's constant shifting of plot lines can make it confusing to distinguish between characters. Woodbury's old ladies sometimes come off like pill-popping teen partyers. Yet what others might call confusion, she might call connectedness. Woodbury manages to weave together these varied, geographically scattered, and strangely speaking characters into the same cloth, but the accomplishment is exhausting. Reportedly, Woodbury is working on a more straightforward novelistic version of this hybrid work. Save your strength for that. LAURA CASSIDY Heather Woodbury will appear at Elliott Bay Book Co. (101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600), 4 p.m. Fri., Nov. 7. THE LONG HAUL By Amanda Stern (Soft Skull Press, $12) In this slim, 144-page book, first-time novelist Amanda Stern explores the love-hate dynamic inherent in both relationships and addiction. It's not exactly a fresh topic, but she reworks it well with her sharp, staccato style and contemplative tone. Curiously, there are almost no proper names in Haul. Not even Stern's narrator is named, and her boyfriend is simply called The Alcoholic. Over six years, back and forth between an upstate college and various parts of N.Y.C., these two nameless twentysomethings blunder their way through codependency, aimlessness, and postcollegiate ennui. They love each other, but it's an angry love. (Though the direction of that angerand the balance of powerkeeps shifting on a chapter-by-chapter basis.) Threatening suicide, The Alcoholic angrily yells that his girlfriend's the only one who can fix him, and he practically forces her to promise that she'll stay with him forever. And while it was his mysterious, romantic melancholyplus the fact that he's a musicianthat originally swept the narrator off her feet, it doesn't take long before she's fuming about his dirty hair and secretly despising him for sitting at a bar and writing bad lyrics on paper napkins. Most often, though, their anger is turned inwarda sure sign that their relationship is doomed (though the couple remains clueless). At the close of the novel, The Alcoholic has become a 12-stepper, and Stern recites a long, steady string of his AA rhetoric as if it's poetry. Amazingly, it works, evenor perhaps especiallywhen she slips in the old saw about depression being anger turned inward. It's like an audible click, a lightbulb turned on. No matter that it's one of those awful clich鳻 you, like The Alcoholic and his girlfriend, are relieved to have the closure. Even though stories about substance abuse, rock music, and depressed people in depressed relationships can be trite, a careful, gifted author like Stern can still make them ring alarmingly true. L.C. Amanda Stern will appear at Elliott Bay Book Co. (101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600), 8 p.m. Fri., Nov. 7. PRAIRIE NOCTURNE By Ivan Doig (Scribner, $25) At the start of Ivan Doig's seventh novel, Susan Duff, whose golden voice lit up his 1987 Dancing at the Rascal Fair, has grown up to be an ultraexacting music teacher in Helena, Mont., circa 1924. Scotch blood burns in her veins, giving her spirit the bite of fine whiskey. Ornery as an unbreakable bucking bronco and high-toned as Dresden china, Susan gives not one inch to grief when her beau, the plutocratically rich cattle baron's scion and wounded World War I hero Wes Williamson, can't find the heroism it would take to defy his religion, betray his strategically ailing wife, and marry Susan. Their affair cost him the governorship in 1920, but his principles proved too high a price to pay. So she's skeptical when he comes limping back into her life with a beseeching look. Yet she says yes, because he's come to ask not for her hand but her talent: He wants to pay her big bucks to train the promising vocal cords of the sensitive black rodeo-clown-turned-chauffeur who drives his doozy of a Duesenberg, Monty Rathbun. Grudgingly impressed by Monty's gift, Susan aims to take him to Carnegie Hall via practice, practice, practice. Nobody has more practice at capturing Montana history in prose than Doig (a Montana native and longtime Seattle resident), who writes that "geography has a habit of kissing people in a way they never get over." Indeed, to enter these pages is to get the lay of the land; to feel the disdain of a rancher for a fellow cowman who "doesn't know which end eats," the inchoate anger of a KKK member drunk at the bordello, and the anarchic atmosphere of Helena's nonwhite Zanzibar Club. Yet here's what's right and wrong about Nocturne: Though rich in detail, mystery, and plot, it has no surprises. Susan's lessons with Monty inevitably attract flaming crosses and a cat nailed to her doorcourtesy, of course, of local racists obsessed with miscegenation. Nobody does more research than historian-turned-novelist Doig, but in that way, it weighs his characters down. They're constrained by what really happened at the Zanzibar Club, what really happened in the great Montana dust storms and earthquakes and Klan infestation, and so forth. As a result, all the novel's events seem too indebted to the past, while I kept wanting Doig's characters to declare independence from history and fact, then light out for the territory of outrageous lies. The fiction's meticulous realism is also its glory, of course. Doig's characters draw strength from feet planted on real, redolent dirt, like Antaeus. (The war scenes of Wes in action sound like my grandpa's letters home from World War I: formal, serious, old-fashioned, morally rigorous.) Doig is a world-class novelist, and Nocturne is a master's composition. He's not going to pull his nose out of those archives, nor should he. It takes real winds blowing hard and cold from real worldsmostly Montanato billow Doig's sails of imagination. I guess it boils down to this: Wherever that wind is coming from, it turns the pages all right. And what more can we ask of a writer? TIM APPELO Ivan Doig will appear at UW Kane Hall (Room 220, 206-624-6600; free tickets in advance from University Book Store), 7 p.m. Wed., Nov. 12. HOW TO MEET CUTE BOYS By Deanna Kizis (Warner Books, $21.95) Exhausted November's Elle and Cosmo? Escape into this debut novel, chick lit at its breeziest, from the West Coast editor at Elle. Kizis has written for a host of other fashion and enter-tainment mags, and her style is suitably fun and superfluous here packaged into a punchy 251-page date-a-thon that's readable in four hours or less. If you're single and dating, the antics of Boys' absurdly named protagonist, Benjamina Franklin, will be gratifyingly familiar (though hopefully more comically bumbling than your own dating adventures). Probably glitzier, too, as Benjamina's L.A. circle includes sundry celebs and fashion designers. Like her creator, Benjamina's a fashion mag writer. (Why are chick-lit heroines, from Bridget Jones forward, always in the media trade? Write what you know, I guess.) Boys won't strain your brain, so save it for a frazzled week when an easy read is all you can handle. Toss it at your best friend when you're done; she'll likely find real-life resonance in the humorously overanalytical post-date play-by-plays and quasineurotic observations that Benjamina swaps with her best friend, Kiki. KATIE MILLBAUER TIGER IN A TRANCE By Max Ludington (Doubleday, $21.95) It's difficult to imagine an earthly situation in which a Deadhead would implore another human being to "try something, dickhead. I will be happy to fucking bury you." Then again, it's difficult to imagine a bunch of mid-'80s Deadheads as anything more than a soon-to-be-extinct subculture of mindlessly pacifistic self-parody. They had tie-dye, patchouli, Hacky Sacks, and American Beauty to keep their THC-baked gray matter occupied, not dark emotions like fury, jealousy, self-loathing, and spitefulness, right? Rookie novelist Ludington disagrees, and he efficiently dismisses many a stereotype simply by depicting the more youthful Deadheads as they were: horny, literate, funny, indulgent teenagers who just happened to follow Jerry Garcia and crew across America. His narrator, 18-year-old prep-school dropout Jason Burke, tells his story the customary coming-of-age jumble of sex, drugs, and rock and roll "excess"with an almost otherworldly, succinct sincerity. The agonies and ecstasies of "riding the tail of the comet" are observed in absorbing, precise detailespecially the ghostly comings and goings of junkie acquaintancesbut without a trace of real, unadulterated passion. On the road, Jason is selfless, a noble student of Whitman and Hunter S. Thompson, cherishing the tentative ebbs of LSD, pot, travel, the Dead's varied sets, and one-armed girlfriend Melanie. Off tour, he commiserates with profane, emphysema-stricken Harry, an old friend of his father, a journalist slain years ago in Syria. The problem isn't that Jason's experiences in each plot line are mundane, but that one never gets the sense despite many ungroovy, macho confrontations like the one abovethat he's in real physical or psychological peril. When Jason reluctantly decides to help Melanie come down off her first acid trip by snorting heroin for the first time, Ludington fails to exploit the obvious risk: Jason's just too levelheaded, too Zen, to permanently fuck up his life. In fact, it's the rare moments when he seems immature or helplessbelittled by a private detective, smacked around by a friend for promiscuity, salivating after an ex in the throes of an excruciating hand injurythat this Tiger burns brightest. Sadly, those instances are few. The remainder is like your average Dead solo: serviceable, overlong, andreallywhat the hell's the point? ANDREW BONAZELLI THE SOUL OF CAPITALISM: OPENING PATHS TO A MORAL ECONOMY By William Greider (Simon & Schuster, $28) Among left-wing critics of the global economic system, reporter William Greider (Secrets of the Temple) writes from a unique perspective. He acknowledges that capitalism is a mighty engine for human bettermentin those rare instances that control over its machinery is not hijacked in the interest of the few. The first third of this book is devoted to a trenchant analysis of the way the public interest has been excluded from decision making about the direction the economy will take. The remainder is a survey of some of the ways individuals and groups have begun to reassert the public interest by exercising the largely latent power of their indirect ownershipthrough stocks, mutual funds, 401(k) plans and the likeof "the means of production." Compared to the enormity of the task of injecting a soul (human values) into the capitalist machine, the successes Greider cites are barely sparks against a background of unrelieved darkness. But they do offer a template for others to strike sparks of their own. ROGER DOWNEY info@seattleweekly.com

 
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