Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Off The Bookshelf

MAY 17, 1999: 

Falling Slowly, by Anita Brookner (Random House, $24 hard)

If it weren't for Anita Brookner's smart, precise writing, a couple of things could impede your enjoyment of Falling Slowly. First: If, like me, you're not familiar with London, reading about characters living in Lower Sloane Street or Bryanston Square makes you wonder if you're missing helpful details. And if you just couldn't give a damn about people who don't seem to have to work very hard, yet who still have tailor-made clothing and second apartments in France, well, that might get in the way, too. Don't let it. Brookner's intense study of Beatrice and Miriam, past-their-prime sisters who can't extricate themselves from each other, is exquisitely crafted interior drama. Brookner doesn't just make her characters act; she tells us why they act as they do. The chapter in which Miriam, caught up in a fruitless affair with a married family man, compulsively steals across town on a lonely Christmas afternoon to the dark window of her lover's empty apartment -- and then scolds herself for her loss of dignity -- is worth reading alone. --Roseana Auten

Panhandle Cowboy, by John R. Erickson (University of North Texas Press, $24.95 hard)

From the creator of Hank the Cowdog comes a book about a way of life that has fascinated the American imagination: cowboying. In Panhandle Cowboy, John R. Erickson uses his experience running the Crown Ranch in the Oklahoma panhandle to open up the world of the cowboy. With a foreword by Larry McMurtry in this reprint of the original 1980 edition, this book attempts to explain two things: What is cowboying and who would want to devote their life to it? Erickson shows the trade to be a harsh, rewarding existence -- the harder the work, the more enjoyable the rewards. Erickson also brings to life a group of people willing to put up with extreme circumstances in order to live outside the modern, urban world. This book wasn't written for the few cowboys left on this earth; it was written for those of us who get tired of our cars, our office jobs, and our comfortable lives. --Rod Machen

The Coldest Winter Ever, by Sister Souljah (Pocket Books, $23 hard)

Chances are you won't much like Winter Santiaga, the protagonist of activist/rap artist Sister Souljah's first novel. But she doesn't care. Materialistic, self-aborbed, and manipulative, Winter is the teenage daughter of a Brooklyn drug kingpin. Her sisters -- Porsche, Mercedes, and Lexus -- are walking homages to the family's warped values. (Winter was spared a similar appellative fate by having the good fortune to be born during a blizzard.) Winter's tale is served up at breakneck pace with more than a little hip-hop attitude sprinkled into the pot, though you gobble it down only to realize later the meal wasn't wholly satisying. Souljah's decision to cast herself as the book's moral compass is a monumental misstep. The intention may be to provide an antidote to Winter's world, but it seems driven by ego more than any insightful literary judgment. Despite these flaws, Winter's horrifying but humorous, honest observations make the book worthwhile. --Lisa Tozzi

The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love, by Jill Conner Browne (Three Rivers Press, $12 paper)

The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love is the kind of book that can serve many purposes. It is part common-sense advice about living your life in a glamorous yet gracious way. But it also provides sound counsel about relationships while being a remarkable work of ethnography that captures a slice of life in the New South. The author is the leader of a group of self-proclaimed Queens (real women) who took it upon themselves to bring a certain amount of zaftig, big-haired glamour to the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in Jackson, Mississippi. Imagine, if you can, the melding of Auntie Mame with Bette Midler and Elizabeth Ashley -- that's an inkling of what species of diva you're dealing with. Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love is the product of a fine appreciation of the ironies of Southern culture and a must-read for diva worshippers everywhere. --John Baker

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