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[whitespace] Love, youth, and the Holocaust figure in three new works of fiction

By Michelle Goldberg and Christine Brenneman

Girl Walking Backwards
By Bett Williams
St. Martins Press; $12.95

BETT WILLIAMS' Girl Walking Backwards is one of those novels that I want to foist on every woman I know because it's so poignant and funny and sad about growing up smart, female, and miserable. Skye is a Southern California high school student whose mother is a prescription-drug-addicted, New Age-obsessed mess. An inexperienced lesbian, Skye falls for a crazy Goth girl with a habit of self-mutilation. Although Girl Walking Backwards is full of drugs and teenage sex--both cynically casual and sweetly exhilarating--it's neither exploitative nor cautionary and condescending. Instead, the novel manages to be gripping, astonishingly insightful, and so refreshing it feels as if you're reliving the frustrating, naive, and emotionally amplified days right before you finally get out on your own.--M.G.

Like Never Before
By Ehud Havazelet
Farrar Straus & Giroux; $23

THIS STUNNING collection of interlinked stories follows a Jewish family from Nazi-era Europe to present-day Manhattan. Like a family photo album, Ehud Havazelet's spare, restrained prose captures the Birnbaums at decisive moments, sometimes returning to them decades later as they move in and out of each other's lives. In "Lyon," a boy sees his brother rounded up by the Nazis and has to ignore him to avoid being taken himself. "Ruth's Story" puts us inside the head of a dying woman as she resigns herself to her life. By telling the Birnbaums' story in these vignettes instead of in an epic novel, Havazelet achieves a kaleidoscopic perspective, in which each of his deftly drawn characters is seen through the eyes of the others. --M.G.

Friendly Fire
By Kathryn Chetkovich
University of Iowa Press; $15.95

WINNER OF the 1998 John Simmons Short Fiction Award, Kathryn Chetkovich's Friendly Fire manages the difficult trick of being at once deeply comic and emotionally profound. This selection of finely wrought short stories centers around the ties that bind us to the people we love. The deep pain and terrible joy of such relationships emanates from these tales as Chetkovich explores the interactions between women and their friends, lovers, and family. Seamlessly woven together, this collection takes the reader on a fascinating journey into another person's world of mishaps, encounters, and moving moments. The author has a wonderful way with metaphor and manages the flow of her prose with a deft hand. Although common human experience constitutes the subject matter of Friendly Fire, Chetkovich makes the ordinary seem extraordinary.--C.B.

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From the November 5-11, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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