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Picks by Edward Crouse (EC) and Aoise Stratford (AS)

Altar Ego
By Kathy Lette (William Morrow, $23, 343 pages)

On the morning of her wedding to Julian (a loving, house-trained lawyer), Becky has an early-30s crisis and escapes through the bathroom window in her wedding dress. Becky has a great job, a rear-demisting car and a fully charged vibrator, so why does she need a husband? Terrified of a life where husband and wife grind against each other like teeth, Becky embarks on an affair with a sexy and sexist rap artist 10 years her junior. The result is a comic post-feminist novel with a slight case of bad taste. With chapter titles like "Resting On Your Orals," you get a pretty good idea what you're in for. Altar Ego is largely dialogue-driven, and the constant crude but witty one-liners can become tedious. Nonetheless, there are some real gems. Not as good as Foetal Attraction, but better than Girls Night Out, Altar Ego is Lette at her almost best and most unrepressed. (AS)


Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams
By Sylvia Plath (HarperPerennial, $14, 327 pages)

Those wishing to mop their brows with a great poet's grief can stop at this sentence. This volume culls Sylvia Plath's short prose stories, essays and diary fragments, made into a rather apologetic case in the dry introduction by her husband, Ted Hughes. Strangely, the most ornate, lapidary stuff comes from her diary excerpts--fine-flecked, sensual, word-clustery character sketches of neighbors, children, friends. The title story follows an assistant psychoanalytic secretary who catalogues the fearful reveries of nuthousers; all the while she dreams their images into an immense junk-lake, "the sewage farm of the ages, transparence aside." Kafkaesque ending aside, the book earns the Day-Glo cover--a somewhat nervous set (Hughes calls her prose ambition a "visible burden") of doodads and unpolished beauty from an imaginative heart. (EC)


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From the March 6, 2000 issue of the Metropolitan.

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