This Week's Reads

Stephanie Kallos and Anne Thomas Soffee.

Broken for You

By Stephanie Kallos (Grove, $13) Take the old notion of creative destruction and apply it to relationships. You're in for a beautiful mess and, doubly, a paradoxical sensibility, as demonstrated in Seattle author Stephanie Kallos' debut novel, Broken for You (new in paperback). Enter heartbroken Wanda Schultz (the mess) into the seemingly ordered life of Margaret Hughes, who lives in a castlelike mansion near Capitol Hill. Unbeknownst to her new tenant, however, Margaret is actually a bigger mess behind her facade: She's secretly dying of brain cancer. Expecting imminent death, the lonely sixtysomething has no family, so she's curious about her new boarder, who shows up on her doorstep sobbing. Wanda's boyfriend left her to be a soul-searching vagrant, and for the first time in her sane life, she has gone completely mad. She's followed her ex-lover's postcard to Seattle, leaving all her possessions behind "like a pilgrim" to find him. Embarrassed about her uncharacteristic moment of vulnerability, Wanda, in her early 30s, returns to her usual persona of a cold, guarded woman with a dark past and a chip on her shoulder. In response, Margaret becomes progressively more motherly—offering her car, bringing Wanda cake, wiping her tears, etc. But they really break the ice when they start breaking Margaret's wall of isolation: her thousands of porcelain antiques, mysteriously acquired by her father during World War II, that have shaped her whole life. As you might expect, shameful secrets are revealed for both women, while characters from the past and present (including some ghosts) also visit the mansion. As for all that porcelain, as the title implies, Margaret and Wanda form a new bond by breaking old patterns. Kallos writes, "This metaphor culminates, obviously, in relationship, which is, after all, a marvel of construction, built up over time and out of fragments of shared experience. . . . Every relationship worth keeping sustains, at the very least, splintered glazes, hairline fractures, cracks. And aren't these flaws the prerequisites of intimacy?" As if she has to ask. The functional dysfunction of these two struggling women is cathartic and full of joy. CHRISTINA TWU Stephanie Kallos will appear at University Book Store (Mill Creek Town Center, Bothell-Everett Highway and 153rd Avenue Southeast, 425-385-3530), 7 p.m. Tues., Nov. 29. Nërd Girl Rocks Paradise City: A True Story of Faking It in Hair Metal L.A.

By Anne Thomas Soffee (Chicago Review Press, $22.95) The title page of this wickedly funny memoir reads: "Being a celebrity gets you a lot of perks, but it also means when you act up in public, people get to talk about it. Names of the famous and infamous have not been changed." Anne Thomas Soffee is a proponent of the tell-all, a genre dangerously close to chick lit, though she's no chick—she's a babe. During her quest to infiltrate L.A.'s early-'90s metal scene as a journalist, she even places herself with the "sluts," as she calls them affectionately (they're backstage for another kind of assignment). Most of the dirt Soffee dishes is actually about herself, beginning in the '80s at the College of William and Mary. Her attempts to share her passion for Guns N' Roses are hilarious, as she tells her friends: "The guy on the right does this snake dance thing . . . and he goes 'You know where you are? You're in the jungle, baby! You're gonna die!'" Their incredulous reactions will resonate with anyone who's felt a little too early, late, or out of place in their enthusiasms for a music movement. Heading to the Metal Mecca of Los Angeles in 1990 with her local newspaper tear sheets, Soffee stops for inspiration at iconic rock landmarks along the way. She takes a peek at Elvis' Aunt Delta at Graceland, but is equally excited about earning a backstage "Slut Pass" at a Danzig concert in Tucson. In one of the asides that are more interesting than her main narrative, she explains slut passes by describing how she was "screeched at jealously" by Mick Jones' girlfriend backstage at a Clash show in 1983. Predictably, Soffee's life in the fast lane starts slow: Editing workers' compensation claims, she eventually begins freelancing for local weeklies. In one assignment, she profiles Mötley Crüe's piggish Vince Neil, whose attitude seems to encapsulate that of the Hair Gods Soffee lusts after: "The perfect Hollywood girl can party all night, and still get up at 6 a.m. to go to the gym." Gag me with a spoon. It's her scene, though, and when Soffee attends a show at the Hollywood Palladium, she's not impressed by the grungy opening act: "As far as Alice in Chains are concerned, we are intruding on a very private moment, and they'd just as soon we all go home. If it weren't for the promise of Iggy Pop, I surely would." This seemingly minor detail foreshadows the alternative takeover to come—"Little did we know that within months we wouldn't be able to dig our way out of smug Seattle junkies in flannel"—and colors the rest of her L.A. experience. There's a brief dalliance with a thinly veiled punk icon/Spin editor, a would-be mentor who uses Soffee as an editorial slave/West Coast crash pad. You're disappointed that—given her warning at the book's start—the jerk has too much power even today to be named. She spends Nërd Girl's second half in "drag queen hooker bars" with her drug-addled sometime-boyfriend, her writing career going the same path as Poison. It's a bit of a letdown—you suspect she could've become a much more prolific journalist if she hadn't started drinking away her ambition. Though Soffee eventually leaves town on the wings of Alcoholics Anonymous, Nërd Girl isn't a recovery memoir but an anthology of an aspiring writer's greatest hits. And misses. RACHEL SHIMP

 
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