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Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Susan Scuurman, Aaron J. Emmel, Todd Gibson and Jessica English

MARCH 23, 1998: 

by Judith Rossner (Doubleday, cloth, $23.95)

Like the song, Perfidia is dedicated to the pain of betrayal. But rather than a lover's lament, this emotionally complex novel from the author of Looking for Mr. Goodbar focuses on the abusive relationship between an alcoholic mother and her daughter Madeleine. Set in Santa Fe, this haunting story is told in the first person by a disillusioned Madeleine, a fierce survivor of her mother's mood swings and manipulations. Her mother, an art gallery manager, brings home various drug-addicted drifters who inevitably serve as Madeleine's father-figures. The progression in Perfidia is chilling--while we observe Madeleine's mother becoming increasingly cruel and brutally distant, Madeleine clings ever tighter to her, the only security and stability she's ever known. There are some tedious distractions: predictable Hispanic stereotypes for the boyfriend (strong, silent, great lover) and various adult females (nurturing, selfless caregivers) and laughable sex scenes with unrealistic levels of expertise between 14-year-old virgins. But despite its flaws, Madeleine's raw story sticks with you for its slow revelations of how a child can be molded into an unpredictable and unstable fuse with nothing to lose. (SS)

by John McCabe (Knopf, cloth, $29.95)

James Cagney couldn't understand why anyone would want to read, much less write, his biography. But the neighborhood tough who rose from poverty in New York's Lower East Side, flirting with careers in boxing and baseball before becoming a song-and-dance man in vaudeville (because the money was good), captured America's imagination by remaining one of Hollywood's greatest and most talented stars for three decades and 64 feature films. John McCabe, a professional actor from the age of seven and an acting instructor at several prestigious colleges, who also became Cagney's confidant and friend, writes fluently about the technical aspects of the screen and stage. Although he tries to balance his reporting with the life of Cagney as a person, and despite Cagney's claims that his work in front of the camera was only a job, it is through explanations of Cagney's method of acting that we are given the closest glimpses of who Cagney--unpretentious and open to the end--was as a man. (AJE)

A Zuni Life
by Virgil Wyaco (UNM Press, paper, $17.95)

In what is perhaps an ongoing attempt to educate poor gringos like myself, the University of New Mexico Press presents the autobiography of Virgil Wyaco: Zuni Indian, UNM graduate, tribal council member and World War II veteran. J.A. Jones, a Las Vegas, N.M.,-based anthropologist and old college roommate of Wyaco, transcribed the Zuni's story from a series of interviews into a solid narrative that makes up in homespun wisdom and charm what it lacks in formal polish.

Wyaco left his pueblo at a young age to seek an education in Albuquerque, an act that left him in many ways between two worlds; and it is his attempt to reconcile his upbringing with the complications of modern life that makes the book so fascinating. Wyaco dealt with prejudice, intertribal marriage and innumerable attempts at careers in his life with the same patience and humility that earned him the nickname of "Honest Zuni." And his story also offers tantalizing glimpses into Pueblo culture, like the Shalako ceremony and the sacred lake of Kothluwalawa where the dead dance for eternity. (TG)

Seasons in the Desert
by Susan J. Tweit (Chronicle, cloth, $19.95)

There couldn't be a more perfect time to release Seasons in the Desert, during the fickle, teasing weeks just before spring. Susan J. Tweit, whose New-Mex/West-Tex public radio program called "Wild Lives" inspired this book, divides desert life into the four seasons. Each five- or six-page profile of desert life--plants, animals and insects--is illustrated with an elegant sepia- and olive-tinted watercolor by Kirk Caldwell, one of the elements that makes the design of Seasons its strongest, slickest feature. Mind you, this is not a "Naturalist's Notebook" (as subtitled) that you'll pack along with you on nature hikes. Because it covers the Great Basin, Mojave, Sonora and Chihuahua Deserts, Seasons is a bit limited in range. Though deserts are synonymous with desolation, they overflow with life; and Tweit is only able to include a handful of species for each season. She writes about desert life quite eloquently--using science, folklore and anecdote. But Seasons is little more than a shelf flower, a book that you'll buy in a fit of nostalgia and hastiness to experience the next life-giving desert season. (JE)

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