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[whitespace] The Queen of Whale Cay: The Eccentric Story of "Joe" Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water
By Kate Summerscale
Viking; 241 pages; $21.95

In the 1920s, Joe Carstairs was a famous boat-racing champion, an oil heiress and tattooed lesbian Lothario. In the 1940s, Carstairs bought Whale Cay, an island in the Bahamas, and became essentially the ruler of her own country. But when she died at 93 in 1993, the legendary eccentric was a reclusive, largely forgotten old woman. This biography suffers a little from Kate Summerscale's inability to really get inside Carstairs' mind. But we do get a sense of Carstairs' loneliness, her strange way of investing all her feelings in inanimate objects and her tendency to buy affection. But it doesn't really matter that The Queen of Whale Cay isn't a psychologically probing portrait--Carstairs' extravagant adventures are much more compelling than her emotions. (Michelle Goldberg)

The Exes
By Pagan Kennedy
Simon and Schuster; 203 pages, $23

Pagan Kennedy has made a career out of encapsulating ironic/alternative culture and selling it back to people who don't know any better, hence her books Platforms: A Microwaved Cultural Chronicle of the 1970s, 'Zine and Pagan Kennedy's Living. That said, she's also far less annoying than her contemporaries, the Douglases Rushkoff and Coupland. Her entertaining new novelette, The Exes, follows the adventures of a supposedly cool indie band. The band's gimmick is that the four members are each the ex-boyfriend or -girlfriend of someone else in the group. The book is divided into four sections, each told from the perspective of one of the characters--Hank, the self-important scenester; his ex-girlfriend, Lilly; the screwed-up drama queen Shaz, the talented bisexual girl bass player; and Shaz's ex-boyfriend, Walt, the grad-school dropout. Though Kennedy is a bit too impressed with her hipster milieu, there are worse ways to kill a couple hours. (Michelle Goldberg)

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From the July 2-8, 1998 issue of Metro.

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