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Picks by Michael Stabile (MS) and Aoise Stratford (AS)

Eating the Cheshire Cat
By Helen Ellis (Scribner Books, $23, 288 pages)

Helen Ellis's debut novel, Eating the Cheshire Cat, ain't no trip to Wonderland, though looking glasses are everywhere. It's the coming-of-age story of three girls growing up in the kind of Alabama town where your mother is your best friend and your worst enemy; a town where sex, spite, secrets and set-ups are all part of clawing through adolescence, high school and college. It's not a pretty story. In fact, the opening episode is downright nasty, as the protagonist, Sarina (the almost cover-girl-perfect sweet 16 of Cheshire Avenue), finds herself in a hospital having her stomach pumped and her fingers splinted courtesy of a drunken makeover. There are laughs along the way, even if you cringe at the same time. The outrageous characters' view of the world is distorted enough to be funny, yet disturbingly familiar. There are moments when the comically macabre tale comes dangerously close to being over the top, but even then Eating the Cheshire Cat provides voyeuristic enjoyment. It's not great literature but Ellis manipulates suspense and humor with enough skill to keep you turning the pages and leave you, as the title suggests, with the ghost of a smile. (AS)

Green Eyes, the Greenest Fields
By Andre K. Crump (TCB-Cafe Publishing, $24.95, paper, 80 pages)

Compared to Dame Elizabeth Taylor's legendary violet eyes, which have yet to be either duplicated or verified, green eyes are a fairly common genetic phenomenon. However, unlike any other eye color, green eyes are, as the book illuminates, a "genetic roll of the dice" which can happen as frequently as every generation or as occasionally as once every hundredth. Green eyes appear in every race, region and gender. They are both fluke and metaphor, highlighting individuals while binding together the cultures of the world. Green Eyes is a lovely coffee-table picture book, with photos ranging from the striking to the banal, accompanied by short literary musings on the nature and form of the color green. No debating what my next set of colored contacts will be ... (MS)

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From the February 21, 2000 issue of the Metropolitan.

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