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[whitespace] Picks by Michael Stabile (MS) and Jessica Ylvisaker (JY)

The Nanny and the Iceberg
Ariel Dorfman
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25, 353 pages

Ariel Dorfman's newest novel takes the form of a 350-page-long suicide note written by 25-year-old Gabriel McKenzie, whose descent into hopelessness began a decade before, with his first attempt and first failure (of many) to make love to a woman. Latino by birth but raised in New York, Gabriel returns at 23 to Chile, confident that his reunion with his father and with his South American roots will teach him everything he'd ever wanted to know about sex. What he learns in Chile about his father, his family, his country's history; about Che Guevara; and about Chile's plan to exhibit a huge chunk of its iceberg at the 1992 World's Fair in Spain do much to educate but little to console Gabriel (or the reader, for that matter). The book's reflections on Latin America's relationship with itself and with the rest of the world are more interesting than the main character's self-pitying lament that life should have been more fair to him; still, the story wrung from the bleak psyche and unhappy memories of Gabriel is a good one. (JY)

Po Man's Child
Marci Blackman
Manic D Press, $12.95, 234 pages

Marci Blackman's first novel (she's published short stories in compilations such as Girlfriend #2 and Fetish) reflects on the multigenerational curses and blessings that converge on the lives of Po Child and her siblings. During a 72-hour trip to a sanitarium-the result of an S&M scene with her lover gone awry--Po Child reviews the histories of her parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles in order to learn to face her own demons. With praiseworthy insight into both African American history and familial relations, Blackman borrows heavily, and not obliquely, from the works of Toni Morrison and Sapphire but manages to create a voice distinctively her own. Sexuality and race are integral to the narrative, but the tale focuses so intently on Po Child's family that the intensity and difference of various methods of coping with isolation, history and trauma become the real marks of the novel's significance as well as its bridge to universal appeal. (MS)

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From the June 21, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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