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[whitespace] All reviews by Christine Brenneman (CB) and Michelle Goldberg (MG)

book cover Open Secret
By David Ehrenstein
William Morrow, 372 pages, $25

The last chapter in Open Secret: Gay Hollywood 1928-1998 is simply and enticingly titled "Tom Cruise," but readers expecting the definitive word on the diminutive Scientologist's sexual orientation are going to be disappointed. That's not to say that Open Secret isn't fascinating--it is--but it offers much more in the way of history and cultural analysis than it does dish. The best chapters are about the not-so-secret gay subculture in old Hollywood and the ways in which studios, press agents and show wives and girlfriends (known as beards) covered for big stars like Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter and Cary Grant. Also engaging are scenes set in the underground gay bars, private clubs and boys-only pool-parties of the '30s, '40s and '50s. (MG)

book cover Fear
By Irini Spandou
Knopf, 182 pages, $21

One reason that Irini Spandou's bleak second novel is such a convincing portrait of female adolescence is that the protagonist, Anna Karystinou, is often quite unsympathetic. She's arrogant, self-righteous and awkward--just like real teenagers. The daughter of a borderline sadistic Greek Army colonel and a cold, beautiful mother, Anna is brilliant but naive and obtuse. Spandou is chillingly good at rendering the way Anna both despises and imitates her father, as well as the way mother and daughter torment each other with constant cruel jabs and small humiliations. The love-hate relationship between Anna and her worldlier best friend, Vera, is also uncannily accurate. But a subplot about a serial killer feels tacked-on and superfluous, as if Spandou didn't trust that the banal horrors of the Karystinou family would be enough to keep the pages turning. (MG)

book cover Trip Sheets
By Ellen Hawley
Milkweed Editions, 227 pages, $13.95

Author Ellen Hawley guides the reader through the familiar terrain of young-adult self-discovery in her debut novel. The protagonist of this story, Cath Rahven, is a twentysomething cabby and student in desperate pursuit of love and her own identity. Detaching from her parents' and society's expectations as the story progresses, Cath eventually embraces her lesbianism in a series of sometimes satisfying, sometimes agonizing relationships with women. Throughout this occasionally clichéd soul-searching, author Hawley shows her knack for ultrarealistic dialogue and depicting the stilted awkwardness of romantic entanglements. (CB)

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From the February 1, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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