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Metropolitan Book Picks

[whitespace] Book picks by Michelle Goldberg, Christa Palmer and Richard von Busack

The Antelope Wife
By Louise Erdrich
HarperCollins, 240 pp, $24
History is grief, and no passion is complete without its jealous backdrop. Louise Erdrich's sixth book, The Antelope's Wife, is an emotionally charged tale of intertwined relationships among succeeding Native American generations. Heavy with dramatic bouts of loss, passion, suicide, betrayals, revenge and obsession, Erdrich's story is stricken with despair, an emotional roller coaster that just rips your gut to shreds. Set in Minneapolis, Erdrich's story tells of the Roy and Shawano families. The novel begins with a U.S. Cavalry attack on an Ojibwa village and a soldier who follows a dog bearing a baby on its back. As time passes, a trader kidnaps a woman to be his wife, a man accidentally kills his daughter instead of himself and a wedding ends with a jealous ex-husband who poisons the cake. Erdrich's writing is compassionately lyrical and dreamy. She hauntingly re-creates native tales in which a woman is part antelope and a trickster dog tells dirty jokes. The novel does have the potential to be amusing at times, though. Erdrich has a great facility with paradoxes of everyday life: women in tanned-hide dresses eat blueberry and lime Sno Cones, and braided grandmas wearing eyeliner and sneakers speak the old language. Erdrich's storytelling brings her back to what she knows best: the fervent dislocated loves of Native Americans who try to adhere to the tribal ways while yielding to the lure of mainstream American ways. (CP)

Remote Feed
By David Gilbert
Scribners, 220 pp, $22
A writer ought to have sensitivity--if not for the rest of the suffering world, then at least for his own raw feelings. All of David Gilbert's 10 tales here are emotionally blank, composed out of secondhand experience. His stories are like your worst fear of teaching a creative writing class and seeing all of the reading assignments replayed, only warped and distorted. In Gilbert's "Graffiti," his debt to Raymond Carver's short story "Cathedral" is apparent--only in Gilbert, the blind character is a porn-fancier's dream who wears black stockings and high heels in her house. "Cool Moss," the opener, tries to reproduce the sardonic chat of a bitter suburbanite who gets shanghaied into firewalking. You can't read a paragraph of "Cool Moss" without wishing you were rereading a John Cheever story instead, admiring Cheever's great facility with drunk dialogue, his acuteness, his mirth, his sensitivity. Gilbert advertises his remoteness in the title of this collection, but the detachment is like a 16-year-old's air of world-weariness. I think he's been watching too much television. (RvB)

Hail Babylon: In Search of the City at the End of the Millennum
By Andrei Codrescu
St. Martin's Press, 272 pp, $23.95
Forgive, if you can, the "M" word in the title of Andrei Codrescu's luminous American travelogue, Hail Babylon: In Search of he City at the End of the Millennium. It's the only stilted word in this gorgeous, melancholy book. Codrescu, a poet, professor and NPR commentator, writes about 13 cities and a few of the places between them. The chapters are fleeting impressions, dashed off while he was traveling to literary conferences and on book tours. In any other hands, these anecdotes would be insufferably boring. They consist largely of detailed descriptions of what Codrescu had for lunch, what his various hosts did for a living and which bookstores he patronized. But Codrescu is a marvelous poet even when he's writing prose, and it's difficult not to be seduced by his witty, deeply compassionate lyricism. He's the best kind of traveler----the kind that is open to anything and so is constantly encountering magic. Of course cities are always changing, and a few of Codrescu's passages were outdated before Hail Babylon even went to press: The chapter on San Francisco dwells on the late Miss Pearl's Jam House. But despite the shifting details, Codrescu illuminates the enduring soul of each of these cities, including our own. As a prologue, he includes a poem that ends with the lines "Dear Reader, forgive my trivial/ impressions of your worlds/ I was there but a moment./ There was love in it." (MG)

Blue Bossa
By Bart Schneider
Viking, 244 pp, $24.95
Bart Schneider's first novel, Blue Bossa, is as sweet and sad as a Billie Holiday dirge. This story of an over-the-hill, smack-addicted jazz trumpeter reunited with his confused young daughter and her fatherless son aches with regret and nostalgia. Set in San Francisco in the '70s, with the Patty Hearst kidnapping bobbing in the back of everyone's conscience, the tale conjures our city at its most romantic and forlorn, filled with beautiful losers, rolling fog and withered old artists stewing in their SRO hotels. The writing is remarkably spare--most of the chapters are less than two pages--and hugely compassionate. Schneider writes about music so well that you can imagine not just what it sounds like, but what it makes its listeners feel. He captures the hopped-up hedonism of the jazz world without any of the typical hard-boiled posing. At the same time, he also avoids misty-eyed sentimentality, tidy epiphanies and easy endings. (M.G.)

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From the May 4-17, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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