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


book cover Heavy Water and Other Stories
By Martin Amis
Harmony Books, 208 pages, $21

Utterly British and sometimes heart-wrenchingly sad, Martin Amis' collection of short stories, Heavy Water, offers a selection from the past three decades of Amis' memorable work. The most enticing story, "Let Me Count the Times," chronicles a man named Vernon's obsession with the frequency of sexual relations between him and his beloved wife. His entire life revolves around these calculations, blotting out all enjoyment until he descends into a fantasy world of masturbation and imagined illicit couplings. Amis taps into Vernon's pathetic inner world with unsettling accuracy, making the reader pity and loathe him even while identifying with his unfortunate circumstances. (CB)



book cover White Bird in a Blizzard
By Laura Kasischke
Hyperion, 226 pages, $22.95

The story of a 16-year-old girl whose mother simply disappears one day, White Bird in a Blizzard is a stunning book, capturing both the vague rage and inchoate lust that simmers in teenagers and the gothic horrors lurking below banal suburban family life. When Katrina's mother vanishes, she's almost too preoccupied to care. "But what could I have done about my mother? While she was metamorphosing right in our own home--changing, reshaping, going crazy, or sane--I was becoming sixteen." But memories of her mother's everyday sadism haunt her, especially in her dreams, and eventually her adolescent contempt for her parents starts to seem like a naive kind of denial. Kasischke weaves the whole disturbing tale in language that's both shimmering and almost scarily frank--each sentence has the concentrated power of poetry. (MG)



book cover Lila Says
By Chimo
Scribner, 128 pages, $20

The legend of the French bestseller Lila Says is that it was delivered to its publisher in two red school notebooks by a lawyer working on behalf of its anonymous author. So while it's labeled fiction, part of the thrill and mystery of Lila Says is the suspicion that it really is a 19-year-old kid in a Parisian ghetto writing these raw, yearning, sex-stained sentences. The book consists largely of encounters between Chimo, an unemployed, nihilistic but sensitive Muslim boy, and Lila, an angelic-looking 16-year-old whose cool, knowing obsession with sex is so straightforward it's almost innocent. Whoever he is, Chimo the writer tells his story with an astonishing mix of poetry and pornography. Lila Says is redolent of a particularly French street aesthetic, one that takes American inner-city gansta style and cools it down with sorrowful Old World existentialism. (MG)


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From the February 15, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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