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[whitespace] All reviews by Michelle Goldberg

book cover Dreamland
By Kevin Baker
HarperCollins, 519 pages, $26

The language in this fabulous novel of New York City at the turn of the century is as livid, roiling and passionate as its crazily vibrant characters and grippingly melodramatic plot. A kaleidoscope of the Lower East Side and Coney Island, Dreamland is populated by circus freaks, Jewish gangsters, ardent feminist sweatshop organizers, Tammany Hall fixers, whores holding on to a dull spark of romanticism, bitter rabbis pining for the old country--as well as those great doctors from Vienna, Freud and Jung, visiting the whole squalid tumult of the city for the first time. Author Kevin Baker worked as chief historical researcher on Harold Evan's The American Century, and his deep knowledge of the era is evident in the story's rich detail and delirious play of fact and fiction.

book cover Surrender Dorothy
By Meg Wolitzer
Scribner, 224 pages, $22

At times, Surrender Dorothy seems so calculated as to be a Big Chill for the current crop of angsty 30-year-olds that it reads more like a screenplay than a novel. The thing is, the book works in much the way that the aforementioned film is rumored to trigger tears in boomers. As Surrender Dorothy begins, four friends, Wesleyan graduates all, retreat to the summer house they've been sharing since college. Sarah, the center of the group, is killed in a freak car accident, and her grieving, hysterical mother shows up at the house, where the friends are in a state of drunken shock. There's real poignancy in their attempts to deal with Sarah's death as they cry, scream and even try to contact her through a Ouija board. Sexual secrets and hidden jealousies are revealed, of course, but while the course of the story is predictable, its emotional power is real.

book cover Asian Pop Cinema
By Lee Server
Chronicle Books, 132 pages, $16.95

More a cataloglike overview than a deep analysis, Asian Pop Cinema surveys the output of the globe's most prolific move industries, from Hong Kong action to Japanese anime and Bollywood melodrama, with brief chapters on Taiwan, Korea and Southeast Asia. The book is too brief to really do critical justice to any of these movies--only 10 pages are given to India, a country that produces more films than Hollywood. A bit on the Japanese series Rapeman especially begs for analysis: "[L]lighthearted, medium budgeted adult thrillers about a pair of supposed do-gooders, a goofy old man and his earnest young teacher nephew, who run the Rapeman Service, serving clients who have been wronged by cruel women (their motto: 'Righting wrongs through penetration')." Nevertheless, Asian Pop Cinema is worth having for the beauty of its design and illustration--it's full of stunning full-page film stills and posters. Neophytes will find it a useful introduction to these rich, exotic genres.

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From the March 15, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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