This Week's Reads

D.B., The Dog Walker, and How Soccer Explains the World.

D.B.

By Elwood Reid (Doubleday, $23.95) Whatever happened to D.B. Cooper? The mysterious perpetrator of the sole unsolved jet hijacking in U.S. history parachuted into the cold, wet Northwest woods in 1971 with $200,000, a few thousand of which was found on the riverbank of the Columbia many years later. He left only a phony bomb, some cigarette butts, a police artist's sketch, and the infamous Associated Press report that misstated the name on his ticket, Dan Cooper, as D.B. Cooper. We have no idea what went on behind those dark sunglasses of his: He never mentioned a motive, and he almost certainly died in his historic descent. After watching Leonard Nimoy's In Search Of . . . TV show about Cooper, novelist Elwood Reid decided somebody had to tell his life story, even if it had to be invented. Reid is a notable stylist who won fame for a fictional send-up of his own University of Michigan football career, If I Don't Six. His next novel, an Alaskan thriller called Midnight Sun, was so good that mystery maven Otto Penzler dubbed him "a master." Reid's Cooper novel is by turns masterly and flawed. Sentence by sentence, he's the genuine article. His voice is tough and funny, and his portrait of Northwest white-trash life is like a lighter version of Raymond Carver's, with a satirical zing that echoes Dave Barry or Carl Hiaasen. His D.B. Cooper is no brooding mystery man, but a poor Portland son of a bitch originally named Phil Fitch, who's been single ever since Geena Rae came home early from the diner one night and caught him jacking off into a gym sock watching I Dream of Jeannie. Luck got Fitch through two hitches in Vietnam, then gave out. After too many gigs as a "cog degreaser, brush hogger, fence poster, insulator, shingle lurch, and all-around odd-jobbing step and fetchit," he's begun to realize that "the American Dream was just a big shit sandwich stacked with empty promises." His loser friends' idea of making it is to stick a hand in a bandsaw at work so sleazebag attorney Sam Cisco, Esq., can weasel a four-figure settlement from the company. Fitch's imagination runs to bolder scams. With the hijacking behind him and $200,000 in his pocket, he's not such a jerkoff anymore. He reinvents himself as Cooper, cool guy on the lam. He hides out on a Mexican beach, giving the author a chance to people the place with vivid barflies. Cooper whiles away his days and dollars helping a loser pal plot remarkably impractical get-rich-quick schemes. Privately, he obsesses over a mysterious cult figure named Jane, and joins a stoned commune of Buckminster Fuller fanatics. Meanwhile, Cooper's fate starts to look like it'll intersect with that of retired FBI man Frank Marshall, who kind of admires the hijacker. Marshall's midlife crisis is as realistic as Cooper's émigré adventures, and as rich in secondary characters. But Reid can't write plots. Detail-perfect scenes follow each other with no plausible sense of causation. His dialogue is delightfully pungent, but it all sounds like the narrator. "Too much witty banter," one character protests. "I feel as if we're trapped in a Thin Man movie." The reader can relate. But a Thin Man movie is not a bad place to be trapped, and Reid has done a deft job of giving D.B. Cooper the kind of life he should've had. TIM APPELO Elwood Reid will appear at Third Place Books, 7 p.m. Sat., Aug. 7. The Dog Walker

By Leslie Schnur (Atria, $23.95) You could call this debut novel The Misadventures of a Lonely Manhattan Dog Walker Who Becomes Romantically Obsessed With a Client and Fantasizes About Him While Surreptitiously Soaking in His Bathtub When He's Not Home. But editor-turned-author Leslie Schnur, who's previously helped Anna Quindlen, Al Franken, and others sell their books, knows that'd be too much jacket copy. Dog Walker can best be understood as a lackluster exercise in marketing—chicklit that pretends, barely, to be better than that. Copywriter Nina Shepard, 35, quits her job to lead a simpler life and take responsibility for her best friend's dog route. What's the professional perk to (literally) picking up shit for a living? She gets to snoop through her clients' apartments, which is how she falls in love with Daniel, the bathtub guy, without actually meeting him. Determined to provide even more plot for the reader's money, Schnur tosses in mistaken identities, something about the CIA, and lots of Nina's wine-induced musings about her failed past relationships and present, nonexistent sex life. By the time she finally hooks up with a guy, you're thoroughly bored with all her griping about thongs and her "wild" hair, and fairly annoyed by Schnur's transparent attempt to make her protagonist feisty and different from other heroines in the genre. The best thing about the book is the depiction of the crazy canines Nina walks; they're more interesting than she is. If Schnur really wants to freshen the chick-lit genre, she needs to make like a mutt and move away from its purebred pedigree. HEATHER LOGUE Leslie Schnur will appear at Third Place Books, 7 p.m. Mon., Aug. 9; at Borders (1501 Fourth Ave., 206-622-4599), noon Tues., Aug. 10; and at University Book Store, 7 p.m. Tues., Aug. 10. How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization

By Franklin Foer (HarperCollins, $24.95) During the last World Cup, Vietnam's government news agency warned its soccer-mad population about the health concerns of viewing too many games: "Staying up overnight and working the next day could exhaust watchers, making them lose their appetite." Other nations have similar reason to worry about its citizens, and New Republic journalist Franklin Foer is one of the U.S. variety. But he's also a serious thinker who uses his travels far and wide to view his favorite sport—then draw inferences from it about globalization. From Brazil to Ukraine, from Belgrade to Tehran, he mixes with fans and renders impressions so vivid they feel like he's belted them into your ear over a pint of lager. A bit like Bill Buford's Among the Thugs, Soccer begins with Europe's hooligan-style teams. Farther east, nationalistic fans unfurl gigantic banners mocking one another's ethnic and religious roots. "The trains are leaving for Auschwitz," one banner reads at a match in Hungary. Where does such hate-filled hyperbole come from? Foer argues that Belgrade's Red Star supporters borrowed their hooliganism from the English clubs, then draped it with the aesthetic of American gangster rap. Meanwhile, since yuppies have infiltrated the ranks of England's Chelsea club (itself owned by a Russian oligarch), the old guard makes appointments to scrap with opposing fans—away from the posh stadium and luxury boxes. Foer also depicts the sadder personal stories of globalization's failures. We meet Edward Anyamkyegh, a Nigerian player brought in to play in Ukraine for $500,000. It sounds like a dream come true—if it weren't for his shoddy treatment there. When Foer asks Anyamkyegh's coach how he motivates Anyamkyegh and another African player, the man's response is chilling. "I've told them, 'If you don't do well, if you're not disciplined, if you're not ambitious enough, and can't match my ambition, I'll send you back to Africa.'" In its own haphazard way, Foer's superb reporting makes soccer an effective microcosm for globalization itself. The new world order may bring African players to a new continent where they're paid fairly for their world-beating skills, but it can't ensure their success or cultural adaptation. Similarly, globalization may bring foreign investors to a hopelessly corrupt Brazilian team—such as Vasco de Gama—but it cannot cure that club of thieving strongmen managers. Soccer never even tries to cobble these snapshots into a cohesive theory, however, which makes the title something of a cheat. Yet that evasion echoes a fundamental critique of globalization: that it flattens out cultural differences, that it makes assumptions that feel good in one time zone but don't apply in another. Foer succeeds at showing us the score in every country he visits, even if the final tally reads more like nil-nil. JOHN FREEMAN info@seattleweekly.com

 
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